Interview: Hessler, Motts, & Stanley – “Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg”

10 07 2015

I previewed Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg: A Guide to the Most Famous Attack in American History earlier, and you can read all the book particulars and get ordering information here. Since its release, Pickett’s Charge has received some great reactions from the public, and signings have been well attended. The book’s authors and cartographer recently took the time to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings, and I’ve attempted to cobble together their responses to my questions below.

L-R, Wayne Motts, Steven Stanley, and James Hessler

L-R, Wayne Motts, Steven Stanley, and James Hessler

BR: Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

JH: I have been a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide since 2003, although I work full-time in another industry. I am very proud of my prior book, Sickles at Gettysburg, which won the Bachelder Coddington and Gettysburg Civil War Round Table distinguished book awards. More recently, in 2012, I was one of the primary content designers for the Civil War Trust’s Gettysburg mobile application. That had an influence on my eventually working on this Pickett’s Charge book.

WM: I grew up in central Ohio. My parents currently operate the Motts Military Museum where my father is founding director. I went to school for military history at The Ohio State University where I graduated with a BA and then earned a master’s degree in American History from the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. I have been a Licensed Battlefield Guide at the Gettysburg National Military Park for 27 years. I am currently the CEO of The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa. I published the only biography of Confederate General Lewis A. Armistead who fell mortally wounded in Pickett’s Charge.

SS: I was born in Maryland and spent the first 17 years of my life there. After high school, I went directly into the United State Air Force. During that time in the USAF, I spent 2 years working as Graphic Designer for Headquarters, Tactical Air Command in Langley, Virginia and the last two years of service, I was stationed in the Pentagon working in the graphics department of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After the Air Force, I started my own design/typesetting firm working for various clients from simple printing companies to McDonald’s Corporation. In 1996, my family and I moved to the Fredericksburg, VA area. I already had an interest in the Civil War so I joined the local preservation group, Central VA Battlefields Trust (CVBT), where I volunteered my Graphic Services to help promote their cause and spent several years on their Board of Directors. During that time, my work caught the attention of the National Park Service in Fredericksburg, especially Bob Krick, which led to my working on a project with Frank O’Reilly, to map the entire campaign and battle of Spotsylvania Court House. After the project was complete, in looking over those maps I realized that they weren’t as user-friendly as I’d like. I started to develop a style that I felt more comfortable with and it eventually evolved into the map style that I have today. During my time with the CVBT, I helped start another preservation group, the Richmond Battlefields Association of which I was a founding Board Member. I was president of the Friends of Fredericksburg Area Battlefields from 2001 to 2003 and through that relationship I met my wife, Kyrstie, at a movie shoot the Friends was funding for the NPS. I also helped establish and launch the Friends of Cedar Mountain, again as a founding member of the board. From 2001 to 2007, my work graced the pages of America’s Civil War magazine. In 2009, J.D. Petruzzi and I released our first book, The Complete Gettysburg Guide, 2009 winner of the U.S. Army Historical Foundation‘s Award for Excellence, Reference Category. Then in 2011, we released The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook and finally in 2013, the Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses was released in time for the 150th of the Battle of Gettysburg. 

BR: What got you interested in the study of history in general and the Civil War in particular? Who/what were your early influences?

JH: For nearly as long as I can remember I was interested in the battle of Little Bighorn, or as a kid I more likely knew it as Custer’s Last Stand. Flamboyant general surrounded and killed to the last man fighting hostile Indians. But as my interest matured beyond just Custer, I became more interested in the Civil War careers of the participants. Plus, about 25 years ago or so, the novel The Killer Angels sparked my interest in Gettysburg specifically. Yes! I am probably in this position today due to The Killer Angels and THE MOVIE. Haters of “historical fiction” are probably cringing at this moment.

WM: My father was a great student of Civil War History. At age 14 he received a set of diaries that belonged to a Union soldier killed in the war. As a small boy he would read entries from the diaries to me. I became fascinated with Civil War History.

SS: I’m not sure when and how my love of history started. As far as I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in history from colonial times and the Revolution through the Civil War. Until recently, I haven’t given 20th century US history a lot of time but I’ve been more and more intrigued with the US involvement in World War One. As for my love of the Civil War, I can pin point what sparked my interest – in high school, I picked up (from the school library) Bruce Catton’s trilogy and was I ever hooked. 

BR: Why another book on Gettysburg, and Pickett’s Charge in particular? What makes your study stand out – what does it contribute to the literature that has not already been contributed?

JH: I admit I get annoyed with Civil War scholars & buffs who question the need for another Gettysburg book. Yet those are usually the same people who buy another Gettysburg book, write another Gettysburg book, or are out on the Gettysburg battlefield giving tours. So I will never apologize for being interested in Gettysburg. And with all due respect to enthusiasts from other battles, when most of us think Civil War, we think Gettysburg. And when we think Gettysburg, we often think Pickett’s Charge. (See the massive turnout for the 150th Anniversary of Pickett’s Charge in case there is any doubt.) So the interest in this topic is still there among readers.

But what do we contribute to the literature? In a field of ever-increasing battlefield tour guides, do you realize that none had ever been produced for this most iconic of attacks? So we created a battlefield tour guide for the charge. Like the best tours, we mix the battle with personal stories, controversies, monuments, terrain analysis, reunions, color maps, and lots of photos. Trust me, you may have other Pickett’s Charge books but you do not have one that tells the story in this way.

WM: This is the first and only tour guide published of Pickett’s Charge, so for that reason this work is different from all others published on the subject.

BR: Steve, since Jim and Wayne are responsible for the narrative here, perhaps you can describe your role in the publication of “Pickett’s Charge?”

SS: For Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, I was brought on-board to create maps using my unique and user-friendly style. We went through the process of the tours and determined how many maps were needed to really tell the story and we came up with (at the time) about 35 maps. Since that was a large number of full color maps, it was much simpler to bring me in as a partner in this endeavor.

BR: Can you describe how long it took to write Pickett’s Charge, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew?

JH: Officially, it took us slightly more than three years. But it was also based on stories, and tours, and research that Wayne and I had accumulated over our careers and that was a help in getting us moving. We got serious about this when we were asked by Garry Adelman in 2012 to write the third day’s content for the Civil War Trust’s Gettysburg app, in part because a mobile app could only hold a fraction of what we actually wrote.

The biggest stumbling blocks with two authors and a mapmaker/designer was getting three people together to work on it. We are all busy and have other things, so that was simply the hardest part. Not only getting everyone to work on it, but with multiple people you have to work really hard to maintain consistency and make it sound like you are speaking with one voice.

With all of these maps – if we said in our text that a regiment was ‘here’ then we needed to make sure the maps reflected that. With this many maps….boy, maintaining that consistency was a lot harder than we had ever envisioned when we started this. So many maps and so many regiments per map. But we think the final product paid off for the readers.

For me personally, I came to a new appreciation of how much blame Lee did lay on his artillery for this. I was also surprised at the number of personal stories that we used that I did not really know at first. We both like writing about the people who made the events happen, and we have some stories in here that I was blissfully unaware of previously.

WM: I believe the time-frame was about three total years. Much of the work was over the editing and format of the work, most especially with the detail we placed in the work. I was most surprised with the study of numbers showing that the in modern times the numbers involved in the attack, most especially for Pickett’s Division, were larger than most likely was the case on July 3.

BR: The mechanics of a tour guide-book are interesting – on what basis did you design the sequence of stops?

JH: Our book has four tours: 1) The Confederate line, 2) Walking the Pettigrew-Trimble Charge, 3) Walking Pickett’s Charge, 4) The Union line.

I think Wayne and I had an advantage on the mechanics because we have so much experience giving tours at Gettysburg. As Licensed Battlefield Guides, it was really a matter of taking what we already do and putting it on paper. But the National Park roads that we use in the tour are primarily one-way roads, which kind of dictates which direction to move, and unfortunately it becomes hard in a book-format to follow a complete chronology of events. So then we had to write, sometimes out of time sequence, in such a way that the less experienced readers are hopefully not completely lost. That was difficult on the Confederate side of the field especially, trying to maintain a relatively logical sequence of events.

WM: The stops are based on the best flow we think both driving and walking. This allowed for a complete treatment of the Confederate line and Union line as a whole plus walking both halves of the attack.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What online and brick and mortar sources did you rely on most? How is the co-author process coordinated? How was the work divided up? Who was responsible for what?

JH: My process is once I get interested in a project or idea, I think of it as I would a story or a movie. So I map out chapter outlines with a logical story flow (beginning, middle, and end) and then start filling in the gaps with quotes and research. I don’t think it’s a really efficient way to work, because I often end up doing lot of re-writing (the Sickles version that was published was my 9th draft) but I guess it’s the only way I know how to do it. Although once I get motivated on a topic, I usually keep going until it’s done. Some people like to be writing books forever. I like to finish.

As for how we divided this up, I wrote a first draft, a “shell” really. Wayne then went through it and suggested various stories to add here or there and we built it up from there. Then we would proof it (repeatedly) and make further suggestions about what to add or subtract. We did not always agree on each other’s conclusions so there would be debates about whether one was being too hard on someone or vice versa.

Wayne and I worked well together because we both like doing things that the other doesn’t. He likes the research and the fact-finding; I like putting it all together. So it was a great partnership in that perspective. We also learned that I like texting (I already knew that) and he prefers to talk on the phone.

As for resources – obviously Gettysburg National Military Park and the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guide Library access are huge assets to us. I should add that I ALWAYS start my writing with the Official Records if the Union and Confederate Armies (ORs). Wayne dipped into the archives at his own National Civil War Museum. The National Archives and pension records were used quite a bit by us. You will see many sources in our bibliography. Am I allowed to say that Google Books is an amazing resource? I think some folks look down their nose on it because it eliminates wading through dusty archives to hold real books, but that is complete rubbish.

WM: I cannot image a better partnership in working on this book. Jim did the writing for the work so it would look, appear, and flow seamlessly. This was by far the largest amount of labor. I was glad Jim completed this task for I really do not enjoy the writing part and I believe Jim does. I contributed to the research of course with a lot of material I have collected over the years. The park/guide library files were key sources for our work. I also compiled the orders of battle in the back of the book. These have been a work in progress for many years and I was assisted along the way by several of our guide colleagues. I also contributed the human interest stories included in the work. And the maps as created by our cartographer were essential to the book. After all this is a tour guide.

BR: Steve, can you describe your map production process? How do you work with the authors when producing a map? What resources do you use (programs, etc…)?

SS: Wow, my map production process, how much space am I allotted? Just Kidding!! Obviously the process starts with the request for the creation of a map, either the Civil War Trust sends it or it is coming from an author for their book. I have a whole Power Point presentation on this but hey, here it is in a nutshell. As I tell people, the first thing I do is actually locate and define the battlefield. Yes, everyone knows where Gettysburg is or Antietam is, but how many know where the battlefield for the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida is? So yes, defining the battlefield is key to where I start. I start to gather all my source material together then locate the oldest topographic map of the battlefield I can find. As an example, for my Gettysburg maps I used Bachelder’s base-map as my template. Now the actual work can begin. Using CorelDraw as my primary graphics program, I create the layers for each element, i.e. topographical lines, roads, water, etc. being their own layer. I will then draw in the topographic lines using the previously found base-map as a guide. Then water features are added, as well as modern roads, historic roads, structures and finally historic trees. Depending on where the battlefield is located, this process can take anywhere from several man-hours to tens of man-hours. Now I add in the troops and the final step is adding in the drop shadow behind the troops themselves. After getting a map ready using what resources/materials I have, I will send out the map to historians for proofing. Then when they send back their recommendations, I take care of those changes right away. As for how I work with the authors, some do send me hand drawn maps, but most send me the request for specific maps covering specific time-frames that relate their manuscript. There are even occasions when the author or authors have asked me to look through their manuscripts and make recommendations to what maps they will need. Case in point – for both of the latest Army War College Guides, one a revised Gettysburg edition and the other a guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, the authors asked me what maps I felt could tell the story best for their guides. For the Gettysburg edition, I came up with 38 maps and for the Richmond-Petersburg edition, I came up with 42 maps.

BR: The book’s layout/design is bold. Can you describe how that was conceived and evolved?

WM: This was all left up to our cartographer Steve Stanley who did a great job in creating the overall presentation of the work.

JH: From day one, we had a collective vision that we wanted this book to “look great.” Color, maps, photos, etc. We also had a concept in mind that included lots of sidebars – topics of discussion that might not fit into a specific tour. I love sidebars – they have no pressure! You like the topic, you read it. You don’t? Then you move onto the next one! So we have lots of sidebars.

Steve and Savas Beatie obviously have a lot of experience putting great visual books like this together and Steve had the skills to make it happen. As an example, one of the coolest photos in the book was an aerial photo taken by our friend Mike Waricher from Gettysburg’s notorious and short-lived hot air balloon. (Or was it helium? I forget already.) So Mike takes these great shots but the gondola and strings are in there. Steve cleaned the images up with photoshop or whatever and the result is pretty cool. You do not have pictures from the balloon in any other Pickett books!

SS: During our meetings/conference calls, both Jim Hessler and Ted Savas, of Savas Beatie, wanted a book that had the feel of the Complete Gettysburg Guide. I think Jim’s words were, “I want to do the Complete Gettysburg Guide but for just Pickett’s Charge.” The format for the Guide was so well received that everyone wanted this to draw the same following. In creating the look and feel for the both the Guide and Pickett’s Charge, I did not want a guide book that was just tons of text, some photos and a few maps. Actually, during the process of designing the maps and gathering the photos for the Guide, I kept throwing ideas out about how would this look and that look – eventually Ted Savas (I think I wore him down with my emails) asked if I just wanted to design the entire book. I found out later that he had never at that time let authors design their own books so that meant a lot coming from him. One thing I wanted to establish in both designs was a fun, colorful, almost magazine feel to both books. My graphic background was with smaller publications and magazine formats so that was the direction I wanted to take. Now that I was designing the book, I was able to take care of one thing that has always bugged me about most books – maps. They never are in the place where you need them. You are reading about an action or movement and you go to consult the map. You have to flip through the pages to find the map that relates to what you are reading. I made sure that my maps were in the place you needed them to be, readily available on the facing page or just a page or so away. With Pickett’s Charge we wanted the maps oriented in the direction the reader needed them to be. Maps for the most part in print are oriented to the north, but some of ours are oriented to either the east or west. It was determined by which way the reader should be walking and viewing the action. All of the maps for the North Carolinians and the Virginians walking tours are oriented to the east, while the Union maps along the area around the Copse of Trees are oriented west. We felt it would make it easier for the reader to follow the fighting and the tours.

BR: What’s next for you all?

JH: I have three ideas I’d like to work on but it’s probably safe to say that you won’t see another one from me in print for 3-5 years. It’s a lot of work to do these right and then take some time to recharge before doing it again. But I do think I shall return. It’s an enormous relief to have the Sickles follow-up done!

WM: Wow, that’s a good question. It should be to finish my full length work on Lewis Armistead but I have many interests.

SS: What’s next? J.D. Petruzzi and I are working on our next trilogy of books, like we did for the Gettysburg Campaign, for the Maryland Campaign of 1862. We hope to have the Complete Maryland Campaign Guide (working title) out by late spring of 2016, followed by the Maryland Campaign in Numbers and Losses and the New Maryland Campaign Handbook. Also, Kyrstie and I are working on a book that will be a study in maps and photographs of America in World War One. I am still working on how the entire concept will be handled but this book will be ready by Spring of 2018, just in time for the 100th Anniversary of America’s involvement in the Great War. More on that as I get a more clear picture on the final concept.

Preview: Hessler, Motts, Stanley – “Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg”

1 06 2015

51mkgt+rutL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Two weeks ago I received a couple of new releases from Savas Beatie. Both are Gettysburg books, and both are visually stunning. I took the books along with me to a seminar I attended, tested them out on a couple of folks whose opinions I respect, and elicited enthusiastic “thumbs up reactions.” Both books will be getting the Interview treatment from Bull Runnings, and as they both have multiple authors it will take a little time to put those together. To tide you over I’ll give you the lowdown preview-wise.

Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg: A Guide to the Most Famous Attack in American History, by Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides James A. Hessler and Wayne E. Motts, with cartography by Steven A. Stanley, is another attractive, hard cover book on heavy, glossy paper. It’s beautifully laid out and includes nice, sharp modern photographs and colorful graphics. It also has the appearance of a home run, and a real, National League home run at that, not one of those watered down, 43-year-old-fat-guy-who-can’t-field American League dingers.

Jim Hessler has proven himself a more than capable narrator with Sickles at Gettysburg, and Wayne Motts, C. E. O. of the National Civil War Museum, perhaps knows as much about Pickett’s Charge as anyone who wasn’t there for the event (to call his command of the organizations and men involved encyclopedic is too generous to encyclopedias.) This volume has Stanley maps and illustrations and sidebars aplenty. The “distressed” format of some of the pages can be a little distracting, but overall the layout is quite handsome. The work is end noted, with orders of battle, bibliography, and index. It’s broken up into four separate tours: Confederate Battle Line; Pettigrew-Trimble Charge; Pickett’s Charge; and Union Battle Line. A total of 268 pages, and a must have for planning your next foray onto the Day 3 field. Hopefully a soft-cover or e-reader version will become available, as durability in the field is questionable.

Interview: James Hessler, “Sickles at Gettysburg”

29 07 2010

Jim Hessler is the author of 2009’s award-winning Sickles at Gettysburg: The Controversial Civil War General Who Committed Murder, Abandoned Little Round Top, and Declared Himself the Hero of Gettysburg.   He recently was nice enough to take the time to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings.

BR:  Tell us about yourself. How did you become interested in the Civil War?

JH:  I was born and raised in Buffalo NY, a city with a fair amount of history but not exactly a Mecca for Civil War battlefields. Although there was always a general history interest in our family (we would annually take day trips to historic sites like Old Fort Niagara and watch movies like John Wayne’s The Alamo), unlike a lot of Civil War enthusiasts I didn’t have any great childhood interest in the Civil War. There was no epic family vacation to Gettysburg. The Civil War was interesting, and we played with our toy soldiers, but I liked things like hockey, video games, and baseball better. For some reason though, I remember always being interested in George Armstrong Custer’s “Last Stand” at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and I would read books on that subject when I could find them. Because so many of the officers who went out West to fight Indians got started in the Civil War, eventually an interest in the Civil War developed because I wanted to know the early careers of  these guys. One year, someone (I think it was my then future mother-in-law) bought me The Killer Angels for Christmas, and although to my initial disappointment there was no Custer in that book, I started to get hooked on the Gettysburg story. But Dan Sickles wasn’t even on my radar — I hadn’t really even heard of him at that point, although I imagine Custer had set the precedent for my being interested in controversial guys. The Gettysburg interest ultimately built up to my moving to Gettysburg in 2000, and in 2003 I became a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg.

BR:  When and why did Sickles become the focus of your studies?

JH:  Sickles eventually started to interest me on a number of different levels. As a Battlefield Guide, Sickles provides some of your best tour stories. You can cover him from a lot of different angles for different audiences—murder, adultery, politics, disobedience of orders, etc. So I simply had a lot of fun telling Sickles stories as do many Guides. But I also became impressed by the importance that this guy holds to Gettysburg – he has one of the most interesting pre-battle resumes, his battlefield maneuvers are massively influential, and he is a key individual in the early preservation of the battlefield. He’s the only major player who is here both on the battlefield and later. So it became interesting to me that so many people had never heard of him or knew very little about him. Why? Because a lot of Civil War historians hate him and either minimize his importance, try to avoid talking about him, or simply make his romantic escapades into the butt of jokes. Then there was what I felt was an increasing trend to almost cartoonishly lampoon him as the villain of Gettysburg. At the end of the day, he might indeed be a villain, but I started to wonder if there was a real guy underneath what I thought were almost laughable one-dimensional stereotypes. My personal favorite: he moved to the Peach Orchard hoping that he could fight his way to a draw and spin that into a White House presidential bid. Really? So I thought there might be an opportunity here to find out if there was more to the story (and if he REALLY wanted to be President I wanted to find that proof!) 

BR:  Hmmm…I think you could delete the word “Sickles” in a lot of the above and insert a couple of other folks’ names in its place.  But, tell us about the book.

JH:  I didn’t start out with the intent to write a book. I was simply reading and learning what I could about Sickles for my own benefit; and contrary to some pre-publication skepticism about putting out “another Sickles book” there really wasn’t a lot of substance out there. W. A. Swanberg’s Sickles the Incredible was the justifiable gold standard but it was decades old and had several chapters that simply did not meet my Gettysburg needs, and Richard Sauers had mastered The Meade-Sickles Controversy, but it was very slim after that. And none of the “Sickles books” covered what I decided that I wanted to see under one cover: an understanding of who he was; an explanation of why Sickles and Meade disliked each other, and why Sickles did what he did at Gettysburg; a detailed account of the Third Corps’ fighting; and Sickles’ role in relation to Gettysburg after the battle. In particular, I was surprised at how his role in the early development of Gettysburg National Military Park received so little coverage in other books; I made that the focus of the final 1/4 of my book because I thought there was a lot of interesting and fun stuff there. Ultimately, I had all this Sickles research and figured I might as well try to write the Sickles book that I had always wanted to read.  To be clear, “taking sides” in the Meade-Sickles controversy was NEVER on my radar. I think it’s irresponsible when historians do that when their personal dislike of their subject clearly jumps off the page. Part of my goal was to peel away decades of name-calling and try to lay out the facts, BOTH sides of the story, as objectively as possible so that I could at least understand to the best of my abilities “what happened.” People were skeptical about this— a sneering “whose side are you going to be on?” was a question that I heard from historians far too often before the book came out. But now that Sickles at Gettysburg has been out for nearly a year, I’m grateful for the positive support that it has received. Nothing makes me happier than when a reader thanks me for being objective. It may sound like a cliché but I really thought this was a story that needed to be told – because I do think that if you want to understand Gettysburg then you need to understand Dan Sickles. You don’t have to love him or like him but he is worth more than a passing mention.   

BR:  Did you find anything during your research that changed or reinforced opinions you already held?

JH:  Honestly, other than the fact that I found him interesting and more important to Gettysburg than his critics give him credit for, I really didn’t come into this with many other opinions. What impressed me the most about him as I started to better understand him was that I liked his ability to overcome adversity. Several times during his life he appears down and out – after the murder trial, when his general officer nomination is delayed, when he loses a leg at Gettysburg, etc. But he has this ability to overcome, often by reinventing himself (from politician to “war hero”), and move forward. That’s an ability that I think possesses successful people, so given this skill, it became no surprise to me that Sickles was able to hang around for so long after the Civil War ended. The extent of his lifetime accomplishments is pretty impressive when you think about it – decades on the national stage in law and politics, tenures in Congress decades apart, a participant in some of the Civil War’s most memorable battles, and his involvement in veterans affairs and battlefield preservation. It fascinated me that someone must have thought fairly highly of his abilities during his lifetime, but a couple of generations later he is universally despised. And some may disagree with me on this point, but I do believe that his heart was in the Union cause, I think he loved being a soldier, and definitely had an interest in his veterans. This was not the villain that I had been conditioned to expect.

BR:  If as you say he had so many positive qualities, why, do you think, does he have so many strident detractors?

JH:  Well, like a lot of public figures he was a pretty complex guy, and he was capable of some very dirty tactics to protect his interests. Easily his worst character flaw. His womanizing is certainly of less historical value anyways.  The attacks on George Meade are the most notable examples of his post-battle tactics, and because a lot of Gettysburg enthusiasts feel that Meade did not get his due, perhaps because of Sickles, then he becomes an obvious target for Meade’s supporters. I don’t think that the venom directed at Sickles today has much to do with his battlefield performance. Lots of generals made costly mistakes on the battlefield.  Consider for example, the guys responsible for ordering and executing Pickett’s Charge.  And at the end of the day we forget that Sickles’ advance still caused Longstreet to suffer heavy casualties taking meaningless positions. I firmly believe that if Sickles had taken the “high road” after Gettysburg, or just faded into oblivion, we would not be here talking about him with such enthusiasm today. But he did not have that ability to quietly fade away. That was not him.

BR:  What has been the reaction to Sickles at Gettysburg?

JH:  I’m very grateful for the support that this book has received. I can’t thank enough those Battlefield Guides who have supported it. I was recently honored to win the Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award as the best Gettysburg release of 2009. There was a lot of skepticism about this book prior to release: Sickles was not a popular topic; people assumed the book would be on “his side”; the economy at the time of release was horrible; and frankly the Civil War community had no idea who I was. The book’s release at one very late stage was almost delayed indefinitely. But I really felt that this book would have an audience given the response that Sickles stories get on battlefield tours. That’s one advantage that the Gettysburg Battlefield Guides will always have – we’re out there talking to people about Gettysburg regularly and we know what parts of the story interest people, and Sickles will clearly “put butts in seats.” Sickles detractors are still his detractors after reading the book; some people tell me that they still hate him but understand him better. That’s OK with me – I never ask the reader to love Sickles. And other readers have told me that they have not changed their mind, again OK with me, but at least the issue was more complicated than they had previously believed. I love to hear that. We went into our paperback printing this spring and I’m still hearing from new readers so it has exceeded my expectations. The highlight of this experience has easily been that I have made many new friends because of the book and I’ll always remember those who overcame that early skepticism to support this. I thank forums like Bull Runnings for continuing to give me the opportunity to talk about it. There are still potential new readers out there.

BR:  What’s next for you?

JH:  As a first time author, I underestimated the amount of work that occurs after a book is released. Much of my “free” time is still spent on promotional work (signings, Round Table speaking, etc.) I also keep busy with my family, day job (non Civil War related), and giving Gettysburg tours. So I have a lot going on and that’s a good problem to have. I was also burned out on research and writing for months after Sickles at Gettysburg was released, but I’ve found in recent weeks that the urge is increasing to get started on another project. I have a couple of ideas in my head, but during the course of “Sickles” I amassed some information on Longstreet and I think a proper Longstreet book would be a good counter-balance to my Sickles book. Longstreet has his share of myths and stereotypes associated with him, “the defensive general whom Lee failed to listen to”, and I think my next full length project might be in Longstreet’s direction. Then I feel like I have to try my take on Custer at some point down the road, but I think something Longstreet-centric might be next. It is only a matter of finding time – the desire to do more is here.     

Jim, whatever topic you decide on, I’m sure there are plenty of new fans created by Sickles at Gettysburg who will be anxious to hear what you have to say.  Visit Jim’s website here.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,094 other followers