Interview: Lance J. Herdegen, “The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory”

25 10 2012

Lance Herdegen (see his blog here) has been researching and writing about the famed Iron Brigade – the one from the west, not to be confused with the one composed of New York regiments and U. S. Sharpshooters, which included prominent Bull Run veterans the 14th Brooklyn – for many years, and has recently published what might be considered his crowning achievement (so far) – The Iron Brigade in Civil War and Memory: The Black Hats from Bull Run to Appomattox and Thereafter. Lance was good enough to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings.

BR:  Can you give us the lowdown on Lance Herdegen?

LH: I spent most of my adult life in the news business as a reporter, editor and executive for United Press International news service, covering mainly civil rights and politics. After UPI, I went to Carroll University in Wisconsin where I served as Director for the Institute for Civil War Studies.  I presently am chair of the Wisconsin Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and historical consultant for the Civil War Museum of the Upper Middle West. I am a past present of the Civil War Round Table of Milwaukee and served on the Wisconsin Humanities Council and the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. I’ve won a number of honors, but am especially proud of the Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award for Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign.  On a personal note, I am married and live in the Town of Spring Prairie in Walworth County, Wisconsin. I enjoy shooting antique firearms, especially Civil War small arms, and sometimes play around with competing with a 24-pound coehorn mortar.

BR: Can you describe how you became interested in the Civil War?

LH: When I was about 12, my father came home with a Civil War rifle-musket and a cavalry saber found while helping a neighbor clean a shed. I was totally fascinated and began reading everything I could find on the Civil War. The musket led to an interest in shooting and I became active in the North-South Skirmish Association, which holds marksmanship competitions for 1861-65 small arms and artillery. I went to Marquette University for a journalism degree where I met Dr. Frank L. Klement, the author of four very good books on the Copperhead movement. He gave me the grounding in serious historical scholarship and insight to the fact much good source material can be found in the newspapers. He always proclaimed that news reporters get the first chance at writing history and with my Civil War interest I kind of liked that idea. Frank added with a smile, however, those reporters usually got it wrong. I don’t agree with that assessment.

BR: Why The Iron Brigade?

LH: I first really became aware of the Iron Brigade while in high school reading Bruce Catton’s Mr. Lincoln’s Army and Glory Road, and finding Rufus Dawes’ Service With the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, perhaps the best memoir of the war.  With the realization that three of the brigade’s regiments were from Wisconsin, I discovered I could drive by some of their farms and homesteads, find their gravesites, and even meet many of their descendants. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the veterans provided copies of old photographs, journals, diaries and letter collections. The Black Hats are still pretty close to me in Wisconsin. I also found much of what the Iron Brigade men wrote of their war experiences was overlooked by historians even though Iron Brigade sources provide significant information about the war in the Eastern Theater. The Black Hats left a wide body of material that is still being found even today. For example, some 300 letters of an officer in the 6th Wisconsin recently surfaced in Texas.  I first met Alan Nolan while he working on his classic book on the brigade, which was published in 1961. We became good friends. I spent a lot of days tramping the battlefields with Alan as well as sharing research on the Black Hats.

BR: What does The Iron Brigade contribute to what we already know about the unit? How does it differ from Alan Nolan’s book?

LH: It is the first time the full story of the Iron Brigade—from Bull Run to Appomattox Court House and even beyond—is told in one book. Alan Nolan pretty much finished his book when the brigade lost its all-Western identity in 1863. He added only a few pages on the rest of the war.  In addition, a lot of primary material has been found since he published The Iron Brigade some 50-plus years ago. The new accounts significantly detail how the soldiers from faraway Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan dealt with the slavery question and the flood of runaways that always crowded the army camps. It also allowed me to turn those men in their Black Hats into flesh and blood sons, husbands, fathers, who went to war with a great innocence, and to write of their romances, losses, heroes, and yes, even of those who were found wanting in battle. Because of the heavy losses of Gettysburg, the Iron Brigade I write about at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, is the not the same Iron Brigade of early 1863. It was a very different war in 1864 and 1865. I also get the opportunity to explain how the makeup of the brigade and even its soldiers changed during the war; how they were affected by what they experienced, and even how they dealt with the war in the remaining years of their lives. It changed them in many ways they never understood.

BR: How long did it take to produce The Iron Brigade? Was there anything your research turned up that especially struck you?

LH: The glib answer is probably most of my life. I had written a couple of books on narrow Iron Brigade topics using much of the new material found since 1961, but I really got serious about this book  three years ago under the persistent nagging of publisher Ted Savas at Savas Beatie. I have been collecting Iron Brigade material most of my life.  As I suspected when I really started to write, I found the amount of primary source material written by the soldiers dwindled sharply after Gettysburg. That made it harder to fill out pieces of the brigade’s story, but I quickly discovered other sources and even more came from the descendants of the veterans. When I went to give talks in Wisconsin, people would come up to me and provide their collection of family letters and photos. I also found much of the story in the old weekly newspapers and the various accounts written for them by the veterans or by reporters interviewing the veterans on the anniversaries of say Gettysburg or Appomattox. The newspapers, I found, are a great source of information and generally are overlooked—thank you to Dr. Klement and my UPI days for providing that insight. I was surprised at the level of political activity in the regiments early in the war and finding just how much the fighting of 1864 and 1865 turned the innocent volunteers into sometimes brutal battle-hard veterans who fought and died with a certain fatalism.  The days of grand charges over open fields in the sun light against a gallant foe were over by 1864 and 1865. Now it was a grinding war that went on day after day without seeming end.  After the war, it was decades later that the veterans found the need to see each other. “I looked in my shaving glass and saw an old man looking back at me,” one veteran wrote. “I then had a desire to seek out my old comrades and talk about the days long ago.”  By the end of 1864, much of the music had been beaten out of the army. I found just as interesting how the memory of the Iron Brigade persists even today. As usually, the book was finished when I looked around and found all those little final tasks of fact-checking and re-writing were completed.

BR: How do you go about the business of writing, and are there any particular archival or other sources you rely on most?

LH: My days at UPI did away with foolish notions of writers’ block. I try to write a few pages a day when I am in full swing, sometimes in the early morning and sometimes at night. I generally go into a chapter—say on Fredericksburg or the solder reaction to slavery—without any idea where I am going to come out. I tend to write in short bursts, getting the brigade from one point or situation to another, letting the material carry me. I am often surprised at the insights I get along the way.  I try to get a pretty complete first draft, then go back to add detail and re-write. I think the opening paragraphs of a section are the most important and spend a lot of time looking at and re-working them.  A lot of this is simply what I learned writing every day for UPI. I write very fast and sometimes my copy is almost skeletal, like wire service work, and I have to go back and put more flesh on it. I also tend to take a lot of material out of my first drafts because it gets in the way of advancing the story. I use the usual brick and mortar sources like libraries, museums and historical societies. I am blessed because the Wisconsin Historical Society has one of the best newspaper collections in the United States. I find a lot of new material there.

BR: Do you have any plans for a follow up book?

LH: I am still in that state of lassitude that comes when your book is just finished and published. Probably some sort of work on the common Union soldier of the Civil War. We will see.

I’m looking forward to reading this one. It’s a beautiful book, by the way – Lance is an engaging writer, and the book is nicely illustrated.





Interview: Guy R. Hasegawa, “Mending Broken Soldiers”

22 10 2012

I first became familiar Guy Hasegawa through his collaboration with Jim Schmidt on Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine. At Jim’s request Guy sent me a copy of his new book, Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs. OK, well, after I dropped a not very subtle hint to Jim on Facebook, that is. It’s a slim volume, only 80 pages of text with another 45 pages of appendices, notes, etc., but it’s chock full of good stuff all in answer to a question which perhaps you never actually considered – how did governments and industry satisfy the explosion in demand for artificial limbs brought about by the Civil War?

BR:  Guy, can you start off with a little background?

GH: I was born and raised in Santa Monica, CA, and received a B.A. in zoology from UCLA and a doctor of pharmacy degree from UC San Francisco. Further pharmacy training and jobs accounted for a series of moves eastward until I landed in suburban Maryland, where I have worked since 1988 as an editor for a pharmacy journal. I’ve published numerous articles on pharmacy and medical topics. My historical articles started appearing in 2000, and I collaborated with my good friend Jim Schmidt in editing and contributing to Years of Change and Suffering. I’m honored to serve on the Board of Directors of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (NMCWM) and am a Director Emeritus of the Society of Civil War Surgeons (SOCWS). My wife and I have two college-age sons. Our remaining family member is of the canine persuasion – a male Belgian Malinois.

BR: How did you get interested in studying the Civil War?

GH: I think I’ve always been interested in military history. The Civil War Centennial started when I was nine, and I remember ordering a map – by mailing in some cereal box tops, I think – that showed the location of various battles and had portraits of generals around the border. I didn’t really start studying the war, though, until I moved to Maryland and began visiting battlefields and other sites. After seeing NMCWM in Frederick, MD, I volunteered my services there and was assigned, because of my pharmacy and editorial background, to research and write a panel for a display of medicinal herbs. The Museum referred me to Dr. Terry Hambrecht, an expert on Confederate medicine, who became a friend and mentor and continues to be an invaluable sounding board and information resource. The herb project required examination of primary reference sources, and I soon became hooked on the challenge of finding obscure information and trying to make sense of it. I began attending and lecturing at NMCWM and SOCWS conferences and writing historical articles based on my research. The members of these organizations are knowledgeable, encouraging, and eager to hear about each other’s research. Interacting with them has taught me a lot and helped me differentiate between tired topics and those that warrant further investigation.

BR: Why prosthetics?

GH: Much of my research has been on the Confederate medical department, and I have spent considerable time at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility in Washington, DC. While scanning NARA holdings, I became aware of the record book of the Association for the Relief of Maimed Soldiers (ARMS), which I later learned was the wartime Southern organization that provided artificial limbs to amputees. I promised myself that I’d examine the volume when I had time, and once I did, I concluded that ARMS would be a good topic for an article or talk. A little more thought convinced me that the corresponding Union program also needed to be researched, and it eventually dawned on me that there might be enough material altogether for a book, especially if I included a description of the limbs industry. I didn’t start with an intention to learn about prostheses, but the story told by the records was too good not to relay. Because of my familiarity with Civil War medicine, I was pretty certain that the topic had not been explored in-depth and that I could handle it without wandering too far outside my areas of expertise.

BR: What will most folks, regardless of their experience studying the Civil War, learn from Mending Broken Soldiers?

GH: Mending Broken Soldiers is unique in numerous ways. It describes in detail the wartime efforts of both North and South to assist military amputees. Most of the existing literature deals with the postwar Southern programs, and the few brief descriptions of the wartime programs are incorporated into discussions of the social aspects of amputation and prosthetics.

My primary goal was to describe what happened and why, but this story cannot be appreciated without a basic understanding of prosthetics – how they were produced and by whom – so the book describes the intensely competitive limbs industry and includes an appendix of the makers important to the story. People interested in invention and technology should enjoy learning how the limbs were constructed and how makers used mechanical innovations and marketing to gain a competitive edge. I’m not aware of another modern work that provides this sort of information. One can find old articles and books about artificial limbs, but many of them were essentially advertising pieces and none, to my knowledge, provides a balanced overview of the business.

The book also serves as an effective case study demonstrating how the vast differences between the North and South influenced the respective programs’ ability to attain their goals. Constructing and distributing artificial limbs required, among other things, technical know-how, administrative competence, industrial capacity, manpower, raw materials, adequate transportation, and money. Although the Southern limbs effort did not lack for administrative ability and zeal, the book neatly illustrates how deficiencies in those other factors compromised the program. The tribulations of the Southern program provide insight about the difficulties that plagued other aspects of the Confederate war effort. Mending Broken Soldiers features a slew of illustrations, many of which have not previously appeared in print. The publisher has posted lists of soldiers who applied for or received an artificial limb through the programs. These lists, which are available at no cost, convey some idea of the war’s human toll and may be useful to genealogists and others who are researching individual soldiers. Readers looking for a connection between past and present will learn that today’s programs to supply prostheses to service members arose from the efforts described in Mending Broken Soldiers. Those interested in famous military men will learn something new about Union cavalryman Ulric Dahlgren and Confederate generals N. B. Forrest, J. B. Hood, and R. S. Ewell. The book is not just for Civil War medicine enthusiasts.

BR: Can you describe the project and what you learned along the way that surprised you?

GH: My research started in mid-2009 and continued until I submitted the final manuscript about two years after that. It would have taken much longer if I had not already been familiar with Civil War medicine and with some of the resources at NARA and other repositories. A major difficulty, common to much Civil War research, was the incompleteness and scattering of records and the difficulty of piecing together documentary evidence into a cohesive story. Much of the documentation I used was in the form of letters that had to be gathered from various sources and put in chronological order to get a picture of events. The U.S. Surgeon General’s records were particularly troublesome because they are massive and require you to look in registers and indexes to find possibly pertinent letters, which are often mis-filed. All this takes time because of the limits that NARA puts on the number of records you can request – not to mention the mental fatigue that sets in after a few hours of trying to read strange handwriting in disappearing ink. I was dismayed at my inability to find some vital reports to the Surgeon General, without which I’d have to make some risky inferences. These were referred to but not filed with the Surgeon General’s correspondence, and I almost gave them up for lost when I discovered them among records of the Adjutant General. Another obstacle was the lack of cooperation from an important archival source, which I will not name. I eventually got what I needed, but it was like pulling teeth.

Since I started with no knowledge about the limbs programs, everything was new and interesting. One of the neat things about the Union records was correspondence from prominent physicians – guys you hear about when studying the history of medicine, like Valentine Mott and Samuel Gross. I had no idea that ARMS, a civilian agency, was administered by a Confederate surgeon. This helped explain why the organization operated as well as it did, and it also accounted for the ARMS documents showing up among official Confederate records. I was surprised at the difficulty that ARMS had in finding decent artificial limbs to copy. There must have been Southerners wearing high-quality Northern prostheses, so I’m perplexed about why they were so hard to locate. I was also surprised that when amputees were given a choice, after the war, between a replacement prosthesis and cash, the vast majority took the money. The archival material is sprinkled with bits of unexpected information, and many of these nuggets made it into the book.

After a while, any researcher starts to see that the investment of time is yielding less and less new information. I reached a point at which I considered the narrative fairly coherent and detailed enough for most readers. I also had a deadline for submitting a finished manuscript, so that forced me to halt further research and devote my remaining time to cleaning up my writing and making sure all the pieces were in place. At this point, I don’t think I omitted anything important.

BR: You’ve covered some of this above, but can you expand on your research and writing process, and where you found your information?

GH: The bulk of my research was conducted at NARA. I transcribed nearly all of the Confederate material I found into Word documents. This greatly facilitated later reading and made it possible to use the search function to locate pertinent documents or passages. I should have done the same for the Union documents but didn’t. Beyond that, I cast a wide net to gather as much pertinent information as I could and always tried to trace it back to its original source. I consulted the Official Records and the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion and searched the Surgeon General’s Index Catalogue (the predecessor of Index Medicus). Google books and other online sources provided lots of leads and many complete documents, including government reports. Fold3, a great online source for Confederate compiled service records, census records, and city directories, saved me many trips to NARA. I’m lucky to be close not only to NARA but also to other important information sources that I visited or contacted for this project. These included the National Library of Medicine, Library of Congress, National Museum of Health and Medicine, and NMCWM. I used WorldCat and other sources to identify libraries and other repositories holding important documents, and in almost all cases, I successfully obtained electronic or mailed copies.

As an editor, I often advise aspiring authors to write an outline and not to worry too much about eloquence or style when preparing initial drafts. My own practice is pretty much the opposite and did not change with the book even though it was a larger project than my articles. While I’m reading and organizing my stacks of references, I picture how the information is coming together and how it can best be arranged. By the time I actually begin writing, I know what I want to do with only a mental outline. For the book, I created a decent draft of one chapter before starting on the next, and the order in which I wrote the chapters depended on how complete my information was for the subject at hand. As I wrote, I discovered holes in the information or in my understanding of the topic, and this prompted additional research or reexamination of the sources. I also refine organization and wording constantly, starting with the first draft, so a piece of my writing is altered scores of times before I’m happy with it. I don’t recommend my approach, and it has probably worked for me only because my projects have been relatively small.

BR: Is there another Civil War related book in your future?

GH: I have another possible book in mind that would allow me to use a lot of material I’ve collected over the years on Union and Confederate medical purveying. As is the case with Mending Broken Soldiers, I’d like the material to demonstrate how conditions forced the two sides to take different approaches. I also want the work to be relevant to a wide range of readers, not just those specializing in Civil War medicine. Until I figure out how to do all of that, I won’t know exactly what the book will cover or how much more research I’ll need to do. For now, I’ll be promoting Mending Broken Soldiers, attending Civil War medicine conferences, and keeping my eyes open for something new to research.

Thanks, Guy, for a truly enlightening look into how Mending Broken Soldiers came about!





Interview: D. Scott Hartwig, “To Antietam Creek”

18 10 2012

I’ve known NPS Historian Scott Hartwig of Gettysburg National Military Park for about a decade, and every time I’ve met up with him over the years I’ve asked him the same question: “How’s the Antietam book coming?” Well, I guess I’ll need to come up with a new greeting, because his massive work To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, has been published by Johns Hopkins. This is the first of two planned volumes, and takes the reader to the eve of the Battle of Antietam. Scott took a little time to answer a few questions about this, probably the most important Civil War book of 2012.

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BR:  While I’m sure many readers know you from visits to Gettysburg or from dozens of PCN Anniversary Battle Walks, can you tell those less familiar a little bit about yourself?

SH: I am a supervisory historian in the division of Interpretation at Gettysburg National Military Park.  What this means is I do public history and manage the park’s day to day interpretive program.   I grew up in Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, but had the itch to live out west and went to University of Wyoming.  By pure luck I stumbled onto a Civil War historian teaching there named E. B. Long.  For those today who don’t know him, E. B., or “Pete,” as his friends called him, was the research editor for Bruce Catton’s magnificent three-volume centennial history of the Civil War.  E. B. knew more about the Civil War than anyone I have ever known and could talk about the people who lived the war as if he had known them.  I ended up taking nine credit hours from him on the Civil War and he was a major influence on my decision to seek a career at a Civil War park in the National Park Service.  I have worked 33 years for the NPS, almost all of it at Gettysburg.  I can honestly say that I have never been bored there a single day.  In fact, some days I wish things would be a little more boring.  There is never enough time to get everything done.  I have written a number of essays and articles for magazines and books, and seminar proceedings, and back in the 90’s appeared in a number of History Channel documentaries relating to Gettysburg, some of which still show but only really late at night.

BR: Who or what were your early Civil War influences?

SH: The earliest influence was the Time-Life magazines in the early 1960’s that followed the course of the war and featured original art of battles, which was the sort of thing that excited a 7-year-old.  Next was probably Hugh O’Donnell, my 8th grade history teacher, who encouraged critical thinking not just about the Civil War, but about history in general.  Bruce Catton was also a major influence.  I read everything he wrote.  My parents also always actively encouraged my interest in history.

BR: Why did you decide to study the Maryland Campaign?

SH: I think Catton’s Mr. Lincoln’s Army was the initial catalyst.  His chapter on Antietam was unforgettable.  The other reason was, when I first started contemplating this, the only two books on the Maryland Campaign were Jim Murfin’s Gleam of Bayonets and Francis Palfrey’s The Antietam and Fredericksburg, which had been written in the 1880’s.  I thought the campaign could use a thorough study that employed the wealth of sources that had come to light since Murfin’s book.

BR: Besides the scale (652 pages of text, plus appendices and an online bibliography available here), what does To Antietam Creek contribute to the existing literature?

SH: This volume gives focus to several aspects of the campaign that have only really been brush stroked to this point.  I spend two chapters carefully assessing the two armies so the reader can understand their strengths and weaknesses.  This part of military campaigns is often overlooked, but when we know the character of an army it helps us understand why it performed well, or poorly, or was mediocre.  The bulk of the book examines the Harper’s Ferry operation and battles of South Mountain in detail, but also in the context of the larger campaign.  South Mountain has been studied by others but there is no in-depth study of Harper’s Ferry existing.  So this volume gives needed attention to what precedes Antietam, which was quite significant, since this encompassed the largest surrender of U.S. troops until World War II, and Robert E. Lee’s first defeat as an army commander, at South Mountain.

BR: Your book has been in the works a long time – as long as I’ve known you. Can you describe how long it took, what the stumbling blocks were, and what you discovered along the way?

SH: It took at least twenty years.  A big reason it took so long is working a full-time job and raising three kids is not conducive to writing.  But I was very disciplined and pecked away at it.  There were certainly times that I despaired I would ever finish it, but there was also something about the learning and writing process that I really enjoyed which always pulled me back.  Much as I enjoy writing it does not come easily to me.  There were many nights I would sit staring at the computer screen and never write a word, and more times that I would struggle to find the right words to describe something.  It was like getting stuck in the mud.  You had to keep pushing and eventually you broke free and started moving again.

There were plenty of stumbling blocks along the way.  Many have faded from memory but George McClellan was one.  He was not so much a stumbling block as much as he was a conundrum.  The first chapter of the book is his story from his arrival in Washington after First Bull Run to his return to command after Second Manassas.  I tried to avoid that chapter at first.  Everyone analyzes McClellan.  I thought I could avoid his controversial personality and history and just focus on the campaign but that proved a foolish thought.  You cannot separate the McClellan of the Maryland Campaign from his history before that campaign.  To understand the campaign the reader had to know McClellan’s history.  I also wrestled with how to treat McClellan.  My initial approach was to follow the lead of a host of writers and historians and bash him as a weak and vacillating commander with a monumental ego.  McClellan is easy to bash, but the more I studied him, his campaigns and his relationships with the Lincoln administration, I felt my initial treatment too critical and I re-wrote the chapter, this time taking a more sympathetic perspective.  I let this re-write sit and when I read it again decided that it too failed to achieve a balanced assessment.  I had strayed too far in the other direction.  This lead to more research and a third re-write, which is what ended up in the book.  My final analysis of McClellan is critical but I think it is honest and evaluates him in the context of the circumstances and conditions he faced both politically and on the military front.

When you work on a project of this size and for this long you are constantly encountering things you did not know, or uncovering evidence that challenges convention.  Two examples are the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia.  The legend is that the Army of the Potomac was an immense host that failed to win a decisive victory at Antietam because McClellan was too cautious and inept and the Army of Northern Virginia, vastly outnumbered and reduced by the summer’s fighting to a hard-core of less than 40,000 men, simply outfought them.  I discovered the reality was considerably different.  The Confederates fought well in every engagement in the campaign, but the reason they ended up with an army of 40,000 or less at Antietam was the result of straggling on a scale the army would not experience again until the Appomattox Campaign.  Confederate logistics utterly failed their soldiers, and when combined with the arduous marching required during the campaign, men broke down by the thousands sick or exhausted.   During the Battle of South Mountain some of Longstreet’s brigades lost far more men to straggling on the march from Hagerstown to Boonsboro than they did in the battle.  If you don’t believe the Confederates experienced a crisis in straggling then read Lee’s correspondence immediately after the Maryland Campaign.  As for the Army of the Potomac, it was not as large as is commonly believed, and was beset by numerous organizational and logistical issues the impaired its effectiveness.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What sources did you rely on most?

SH: I typically like to assemble my research for a chapter before I start writing.  The research also guides the story the chapter needs to tell.  But I sometimes was so eager to write – because I really enjoy the process – that I would get started before I finished the research.  I don’t recommend this method as it leads to an excessive amount of re-writing when you discover evidence that contradicts something you have already written.

The U.S. Army Heritage Education Center, Dartmouth College, the National Archives and Library of Congress were four of the most important archives among many I accessed for this project.  USAHEC houses the finest collection of Union related manuscript material in the country and it is an absolutely first class resource to use.  Besides all the official documents, correspondence, regimental books, etc., that the National Archives houses they had an obscure collection called Antietam Studies, which contained dozens of letters from veterans of the battle mainly to Ezra Carman, a veteran of the battle, and its historian in the late 19th Century, documenting in great detail their unit’s part in the battle, and sometimes, in the entire campaign.  The Library of Congress had Ezra Carman’s massive unpublished manuscript of the Maryland Campaign, which is indispensable to any study of the campaign.  Thankfully, Tom Clemens did a masterful job of editing this manuscript and it has been published by Savas BeatieDartmouth College housed the John Gould Collection.  Gould was an officer in the 10th Maine Infantry at Antietam who in the 1890’s initially set out to determine where General Joseph K. Mansfield fell at Antietam, but the project expanded until Gould was receiving correspondence from dozens of Union and Confederate veterans who fought in the cornfield and East Woods.  Although there is a great deal of correspondence from Confederate soldiers in the Antietam Studies and Gould Collection, for wartime manuscript material the Southern Historical Collection at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the largest.

When I started this project the web as we know it did not exist yet, but in the last few years I used it quite a bit.  The best on-line source for the Maryland Campaign is [Brian Downey’s] Antietam on the Web.  It is an excellent resource.

BR: What’s next for you?

SH: Next is volume 2, which will cover the Battle of Antietam, the end of the campaign and the aftermath of Antietam, both in the battlefield area and nationally.  My guess is it will take three years.

We’re all looking forward to that – but good luck with that three year schedule!





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.





Interview: Mark Snell, “West Virginia and the Civil War”

17 11 2011

I met Mark Snell about 10 years ago at a Penn State – Mont Alto conference, sipping scotch and smoking cigars with Joe Harsh in the gazebos into the wee hours. Since then our paths have seldom crossed, though I did run into him in the Reliance Mine Saloon in Gettysburg a couple of years back. I don’t think he remembered meeting me, but he did say he was a Bull Runnings reader. Mark has a new book out from The History Press’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Series, titled West Virginia and the Civil War: Mountaineers Are Always Free, and he recently took some time to answer a few questions about it.

BR: For those who don’t already know, who is Mark Snell?

MS:  I’m a retired US Army officer, having served from 1973-1994. I currently work as a professor of history and the director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University.  As a graduate student I studied under Herman Hattaway at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). I own and live on a circa-1832 farm just outside of Gettysburg. On July 1, 1863, two divisions of the Army of the Potomac’s 11th Corps marched down the road between my house and my barn.

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

MS: I grew up in York, Pennsylvania, during the Civil War Centennial. York is about a 45-minute drive east of Gettysburg. Naturally, as a little boy I was fascinated by the monuments and cannons at Gettysburg National Military Park, and many family visits there sparked my interest. When I got older, I bought a metal detector and started digging relics, and later joined a re-enactment group. Those things really escalated my interest in the Civil War. Then, as a young army lieutenant, I was stationed in Germany, and I frequently traveled during my free time to the battlefields of the Napoleonic Wars, the Franco-Prussian War, World War I and World War II. Then, when I was a captain, I was selected to teach history at the US Military Academy. Uncle Sam sent me to graduate school prior to that assignment, and while at Rutgers University I wrote a master’s thesis on recruiting and conscription in York County, PA, during the Civil War. I was not really trained as a military historian, and in fact I taught courses in American history, not military history, at West Point. Nonetheless, I slowly gravitated towards specializing in military history, although I still consider myself a social/cultural historian.  I then became a doctoral student at UMKC, where I wrote a biography of Union general William B. Franklin for my dissertation [later published as From First to Last: The Life of Major General William B. Franklin – BR]. As I was completing my studies there, I was hired to be the director of the Civil War Center at Shepherd University. Recently, I taught for one semester in the Department of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. There, I taught strictly military history, from the history of expeditionary operations to the history of insurgency/counterinsurgency warfare to military leadership from a historical perspective.

BR: While the West Virginia link is obvious from your connection to Shepherd University, how does your work there tie to the book? I know you have researchers working on a WV soldiers database – did the results of that study impact the book?

MS: Ever since my arrival at Shepherd, our staff has been compiling a database comprised of the transcribed military service records of West Virginia soldiers, both Union and Confederate, who fought in the Civil War. The information from the micro-filmed service records is entered, by regiment, in a special database that we created using Microsoft Access. Thus far we have entered the records of approximately 20,000 soldiers from both sides. Currently, we are entering the service records of soldiers who were assigned to the 22nd Virginia Infantry, a Confederate regiment recruited from the Kanawha Valley of modern-day West Virginia.  Since approximately 32,000 Union soldiers are credited to West Virginia, and somewhere around 20,000 (West) Virginians served in Confederate units, we still have a long way to go until the completion of that project. A few years ago we released a CD titled “Mountaineers of the Blue and Gray,” which contains historical data on West Virginia units, the battles in which they fought, key Civil War sites in West Virginia, the creation of the State of West Virginia, biographical sketches of famous or interesting West Virginia Civil War personalities, etc. The research that the staff of the George Tyler Moore Center had accomplished in constructing this CD, as well as the data gleaned from the military service records database, greatly facilitated the writing of my recent book.

BR: Was there anything that you turned up in the process of researching and writing this book that particularly surprised you (I know that’s a loaded question since you’ve been researching this topic for a long time)?

MS: Yes. I was surprised at the level and ferocity of guerilla warfare—which was then called “bushwhacking”—within the borders of the state. I found one instance where a Union soldier was ambushed and hacked to pieces and then beheaded by Confederate guerillas. In his autobiography, General George Crook remarked that the bushwhackers caused so many problems that, once captured,  they “accidentally” drowned, or “fell” and broke their necks, or were shot while “trying to escape.”

BR: Is there anything you wish had made it into the book but didn’t?

MS: I was limited by the number of words that was dictated by the publisher, but most of what I wanted to get into print actually survived the editor’s slashing.  This past semester I taught a course on West Virginia history, made necessary by the unexpected retirement of a faculty member who had taught that course for more than three decades. I only wish I had taught this course before I wrote West Virginia and the Civil War, as the knowledge I’ve gained from teaching it would have given me a better perspective for placing the war in the larger context of antebellum Western Virginia history and post-bellum West Virginia history. Also, I would have liked to have written an entire chapter on the guerilla war. Finally, because I had exceeded the publisher’s word-count limitation, I had to cut out some images.

BR: If there’s one thing about WV’s role in the Civil War that you hope people take away from this book, what is it?

MS: The one thing that people should understand is that West Virginia was the most divided state in the country—more so than Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri— with approximately 40,000 of its citizens serving as combatants (about 20,000 on each side). There were battles—particularly the ones fought in the Shenandoah Valley and within the borders of the new state, such as the 1863 clash at Droop Mountain and the 1864 battle at New Market—that pitted friends and family members against each other. Also, I think I set the record straight on the actual number of Union soldiers who enlisted in West Virginia’s Union regiments. The “official” number has always been given at approximately 32,000, but about a third of that number was made up of citizens of Pennsylvania or Ohio who came across the state border to enlist. Also, some of those 32,000 troops were men who re-enlisted in Veteran Volunteer regiments.  Older histories focusing on West Virginia and the Civil War also deflated the number of West Virginians serving in Confederate—mostly Virginia—regiments, but recent scholarship has adjusted the number upwards to approximately 20,000.

BR: Can you describe your researching and writing process?

MS: My research process for West Virginia and the Civil War was much easier than it should have been because of the ongoing research that the staff of the George Tyler Moore Center has been doing for more than a decade and a half. Nonetheless, I still used archival material and special collections found in the West Virginia University Library and the West Virginia State Archives. Plus, I used unpublished letters and other primary sources from our own library, as well as the plethora of primary sources that have made their way into print in the past few decades.  The internet also proved useful, as I was able to find on-line primary sources from reputable websites, as well as out-of-print books that have been scanned and made available on-line, such as the ones found at Google Books. The actual collection of my research notes is done on my laptop. When most of the research is completed, I write a detailed outline, and then I immediately begin writing the manuscript.  During the actual writing period I have books, photocopies and hand-written notes all over the place, usually in my dining room. The best way to describe it is “organized chaos.”

BR: What’s on tap for you?

MS: Right now I’m writing the narrative to accompany a photographic album on West Virginia and the Civil War, to be published in 2013 by West Virginia University Press, and I’m co-editing, with Ethan Rafuse, an anthology focusing on Union corps commanders, to be published by LSU Press. After those projects are finished, I’ll either write a book about the guerilla war in West Virginia, or I’ll do something completely different, like tackle a World War II subject.

The WVa guerilla war sounds particularly intriguing. Here’s hoping that we see at least one more Civil War related work from Mark before he goes traipsing off into other conflicts.





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.








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