Interview: Janet Croon [Ed.], “The War Outside My Window”

23 07 2018
Jan 02

Janet Elizabeth Croon

Savas Beatie’s recent release, The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 has been making quite a ruckus this summer. I previewed it here, and also briefly covered an upcoming companion book here. Editor Janet Elizabeth (Jan) Croon recently took time to answer a few questions for Bull Runnings.

BR: Jan, tell the readers a little something about yourself.

JEC: I began teaching at South Lakes High School [SLHS] in Fairfax County Public Schools with the class of 2000. My educational background was in Political Science (BA ’83 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; MA ’85 from the University of Dayton) and was living in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and during the First Gulf War in 1991. I taught in the International Baccalaureate Programme at SLHS, and did some consulting work for the IB as a moderator in the Middle Years Programme and a History Paper One examiner in the IB Programme. I raised two daughters who are now adults, at the same time.

BR: How did you first become interested in Civil War history?

JEC: When both of my daughters had “flown the nest,” I found myself with extra time and became interested in the Civil War through the study of quilting in Virginia. I discovered a story that took place in my own area of Northern Virginia, and that I had driven past the grave of one of the principal characters twice a day as I went to and from school and home. She left no written documentation, so I began researching the story with the intention of writing historical fiction, with a heavily researched foundation. That project is now on hold, but it introduced me to many of the books published by Savas Beatie which form the core of my research.

BR: Discuss if you will how this book came about.

JEC: While I was on medical disability leave from school, I spent a good deal of time on Facebook, and a post kept coming through my newsfeed. I eventually read it, and was so glad I did! It was a 2012 Washington Post article about a young man from Macon, Georgia, who had written seven journals during the war; the journals were featured in the Library of Congress’ sesquicentennial remembrance of the start of the Civil War. The two things that struck me that was it would be an amazing primary resource to use in teaching teens about the Civil War, and that it had apparently not been published. To make a long story short, I contacted Ted Savas at Savas Beatie and we soon had a contract signed to transcribe and publish LeRoy’s journals.

BR: What were the most surprising finds while researching LeRoy Wiley Gresham?

JEC: The most obvious is how incredibly bright and intelligent this young man was. He was exceptionally well-read, intellectually curious, and watching his intellectual abilities grow faster than his years was, for a teacher, an amazing process. I saw him in class with my own students and saw that he was at once an exceptional young man, but still a typical boy even by today’s standards. I also found he had identified flaws in Confederate policy before the government in Richmond did (or at least attempted to address them), and his criticisms of decisions made by military and governmental leaders were often correct. The further along we worked, we realized that The War Outside My Window provides history with the only complete teenaged male account of the Civil War from a purely civilian perspective, making it a very unique primary source. LeRoy was “blogging” his daily life and documenting with detail a pivotal transitional period in American history. Of course, there were “problems” that we had trouble answering, such as who was who in LeRoy’s entries and the origins of his many health issues. We eventually discovered that LeRoy did not know what his complete medical diagnosis was, because his parents had decided not to tell him. Research, technology, and collaboration helped us figure these problems out.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?

JEC: What I would do would begin by transcribing each entry from the LOC’s meticulous online scans exactly as he wrote them. LeRoy wrote with a beautiful cursive handwriting (experimenting at one point with cherry juice as ink!) and so it was relatively easy to transcribe his writing. I had to sometimes decipher his abbreviations and found that there were indeed words he would use that are no longer part of our common vocabulary. While transcribing, I tried to identify the many family, friends, and military members that LeRoy wrote about, using Ancestry.com as the main source for finding family connection; there ended up being only three cousins that I could not identify out of the 1700 individuals on the Gresham family tree. Other books on the history of Macon (credited in the book) helped with prominent friends and an overall history of the era. I also contacted the University of Georgia map room and two of their librarians provided invaluable information regarding the location and size of the Gresham plantations; the genealogy librarian at Macon’s Washington Library was also very helpful. I also researched major political/military events, putting all of this in the footnotes. Once all seven journals had been transcribed, Ted and I made some overall decisions regarding the formatting of the entries, what would be left out (which was basically only LeRoy’s record of temperatures three times a day for about a year and a half and a few people who appeared once who we could not adequately identify), how to approach the footnoting, etc. I focused on the genealogical and local personality aspects, while Ted (who has been studying Civil War history for about 40 years) focused on producing the lengthy military notations. We then had our few problem areas remaining to work on, but essentially to go from the contract to picking up the first completed bound copy was one year.

BR: Your promotional information indicates that the book was a collaborative effort with your publisher Ted Savas and author Dennis Rasbach. Can you describe that process?

JEC: Dr. Rasbach had worked with Ted before on his book about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Petersburg, and Ted asked him if he would be willing, given his background in medicine, to try his hand at diagnosing LeRoy’s illness. I had discovered that LeRoy’s leg had been crushed in an accident when he was 8 years old, but that alone would not have caused all of the symptoms that he had. So Ted asked me to compile all of the medically related content from the text of the journals, which I called “LeRoy’s Medical Records.” I culled out the complaints, symptoms, treatments, and medications (what I refer to as the “pharmaceutical roulette”) that he was prescribed. Dr. Rasbach called Ted two weeks later, and had the diagnosis, which was a complete surprise: LeRoy was suffering from a rare but potent form of tuberculosis called Pott’s Disease. Dr. Rasbach provided a medical foreword and afterword, but there was so much more that could be explained about this form of the disease that it was decided that he would write a companion piece. We also discovered that LeRoy’s diary is the only complete 19th century record of this disease in existence, which still is a fatal disease in some parts of the world. The fact that his parents, John and Mary Gresham, did not tell their son this diagnosis makes sense once you get to know LeRoy. This knowledge would have crushed his incredible spirit.

BR: What do you feel is the real message, the impact of this book?

JEC: People who follow the Civil War are usually familiar with the battles, the personalities, the leaders, the politics, and the military strategies. But rarely are they provided with the insight as to how this conflict impacted an entire community. The War Outside My Window gives readers a very detailed look at how the war impacted daily life in Macon, especially (but not exclusively) for the slave-holding class. Because it was a railroad hub, Macon became a training and transport center with an armory, arsenal, ballistics laboratory, and eventually hospitals and an officers’ prisoner camp. LeRoy tells us what daily life is like, what he reads, what the family eats, how the plantations and the slaves living there supported the Macon household, and how the family took care of the slaves in their control. He tells us how people got war news and how they made sense of it all, be it from newspapers, telegraph, official reports, letters from soldiers in the fighting, or rumor; he soon learns to be skeptical. LeRoy talks about the hardships that his family is facing, with the full realization that there are others who are not as fortunate. He worries about their welfare as well, especially when horses and crops are requisitioned. He tells us what happened during Sherman’s advance, when Macon was suddenly not as safe as it once was. And he does all of this from a relative distance, due to his disability and continuing illness. We began to look at The War Outside My Window as being the young voice of the Old South, with his own life ebbing in parallel with that of the Confederacy. LeRoy described in clear and uncertain terms the process of change that marked one era of Southern history as distinct from the one that would follow, which makes it a truly unique book.

BR: How has the book been received so far?

JEC: Exceptionally well! It has only been out since June 1, and is in a second printing. It has gotten attention from all kinds of news sources, has sold out in a history book club, is going to be featured in some major Civil War magazines, and while it is not a quick and easy book to read, people are constantly telling us how much they are learning about the Civil War and how civilian life was changed. People who are well-versed in the war are learning new things about civilian life, and those who are not are becoming interested in the subject as a whole, which was one of our hopes for this book. We have been contacted by many homeschool groups that are very interested in using LeRoy’s writing to teach their kids about the Civil War, so there are applications for this book that I had hoped could be tapped, but wasn’t sure was practical. Now we know there is a definite demand!

BR: What’s next for you?

JEC: Currently, I am working with a friend on a curriculum guide to go along with The War Outside My Window. It is going to have a multi-disciplinary approach that will allow teachers from grades 7-12 to choose from a wide range of activities that they can format to fit the needs of their own classrooms and will be grounded in Common Core and Virginia Standards for History. Between the two of us, we have all that covered so teachers can be assured they will have a guide that will allow them to make the most of LeRoy’s diary. Ted Savas and I are also currently working on abridging LeRoy’s journals for audiobook. I am finding that making it accessible for a listening audience will be a different challenge, but one I am excited to meet. I also have many book talks and signings scheduled in different parts of the country through the end of next year! Eventually, I do want to finish the work that initially got me interested in writing about the Civil War, but for the time being, I will be introducing more and more readers to LeRoy Wiley Gresham and The War Outside My Window.





Interview: Richard M. Allen, “Anderson’s Brigade Rosters”

18 07 2018

 

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Rick Allen giving a tour of Anderson’s Brigade at Gettysburg

Richard M. “Rick” Allen has been a friend for a while, and an e-quaintance for much longer. He has recently published, with Savas Beatie, a four volume set of rosters for the Georgia Regiments (7th, 8th, 9th, & 11th Infantry) of G. T. Anderson’s brigade. It’s a wonderful set of books that amounts to a collection of mini-biographies of the thousands of men who served during the lives of the regiments. I’m enjoying the heck out of them. Rick graciously took the time to talk about the project. You can order your own copies right here.

BR: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

RMA: Not much to tell really. I’m an only child and a 1990 graduate of the Maryland Institute of Art, where I received a B.F.A degree in what was truly a unique environment. Not having the sense to be a Graphic Arts major, we Fine Art types took our degrees and went on to work in just about any field excepting Art. In my case, I’ve spent most of my work career in the field of warehousing and purchasing, pretty much because I was always good at organizing things.

BR: What got you interested in the Civil War? Who/what were your early influences?

RMA: I come from largely military family; my father served, my uncles, both grandfathers, the whole shebang. I was lucky to have a father who enjoyed taking trips to battlefields and who instilled in me some sense of appreciating history. We spent many of my childhood trips on various battlefields, much to my mother’s dismay. My earliest influences were common, Tucker, Catton and Foote, but my initial fascination with the Civil War probably had as much to do with those great battle drawings with the little soldiers in The Golden Book of The Civil War as anything else. I was amazed by those drawings. It’s funny how often you hear that as an influence, but it absolutely was in my case.

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The Golden Book of the Civil War

BR: So, how did you settle on Anderson’s brigade for this study, and why did you only publish the Georgia regiments?

RMA: From about the late 90’s I started to get fascinated with Anderson’s Brigade mostly because at the time, it was like looking into a black hole. I’m primarily a Gettysburg guy, and there was always this kind of blank between Kershaw and Robertson. It seemed as if Anderson and Semmes just got sucked into the Rose Woods and that was that. You’d hear about Anderson in the Wheatfield fight of course, but it was usually just a passing reference with no real meat on the bone. The more I looked into this situation and the more tours I took, the more this pattern of emptiness repeated itself. Also, around this time, in following the line of the brigade’s attack on July 2, I became very interested in the terrain they had to cross and the particular set of circumstances that made their task so difficult. Nobody else really seemed to be doing much on the brigade, so after a few years of tentative learning, I finally decided that I would “adopt” them. This led to my serious interest in these regiments and I spent about 15 years learning all I could about them.

As you referenced in the above question, the original idea was to create a Roster for every unit that ever served in what would become G. T. Anderson’s Brigade. Taking things chronologically, that starts with Bartow, so I first made a Roster for the 4th Alabama Infantry, which was attached to Bartow’s Brigade before it transferred to Bee before Manassas. That roster turned out well as the 4th AL has a great deal of information out there and a very complete set of CSRs [Compiled Service Records]. The next Roster I made was for the 1st KY Infantry……which you really have to do by battalion as they weren’t consolidated into a regiment for some time……so I next made three battalion rosters for them. These Rosters are not much, as the 1st KY only existed for less than a year, so this Roster is not really anything to brag about, but they have one. These two rosters and one for the Wise Artillery (which was frequently attached to Anderson’s brigade early in the War) served as my training grounds. By the time I got done these 2400 or so men, I had a good idea of what I was doing. I knew I would have much more meat on the bones with the Georgians coming up, and with some skills behind me, the next rosters I did were the 9th, 11th, 8th and 7th GA in that order. I think these turned out very well, but they were more work than even I expected. By the time I was done the 8th Georgia, I knew that I only had one roster left in me, so I knew the 7th would be my last. This effectively trashed the original idea of my making a roster for every unit in the brigade because I saw no way I could complete a roster for the 1st Georgia Regulars, 10th Georgia Battalion and 59th Georgia Infantry on top of what I had already done. The thought of 3000 more men to document was just too much. I was burned out. Six regiments and an artillery battery are apparently my limit.

BR: Describe if you will the biographical rosters, their format, and the rationale for that format.

RMA: The Rosters I created are pretty much the books I would love to have been able to read 15 years ago…except they didn’t exist. They are essentially based on the same format used by Lillian Henderson in her epic Roster of Confederate Soldiers of Georgia, but with much more information. I used a basic template like Henderson, and I tried to write in as detached and clinical a manner as possible while expanding the scope of Henderson’s effort. Breaking the men down into chronological rank, a process I termed as “slotting”, is really the most radical departure from Henderson’s format, but I thought that was an important and unique addition. It also damned near drove me crazy.

BR: Can you describe your research and writing process? What sources, paper and digital, did you use most frequently? How long did the whole thing take to complete?

RMA: The rosters were all done in a Word file and constantly adjusted through three distinct steps. Henderson first, then the massive amount of CSR information was added, and the third step was “everything else.” The rosters began with just the names in Henderson’s Roster, so that would be the skeleton of the entire work. As I would come to learn, what you find in Henderson is not always what you find in the CSR; in fact, quite often, there are major differences. Most of these differences can be resolved, but only by looking at the totality of an issue. In other words, you find clues in the most unlikely of places and you would never know they were there unless you looked at EVERYTHING. Records are sometimes mixed and contradictory, and there are notes on cards relating to entirely different people within the company or regiment that can solve an issue. Until you look at everything, especially as it relates to rank slotting, you are playing Jenga in the dark. Slotting was by far the most challenging aspect of these books. Frequently, on a project like this, you are at the mercy of long dead First Sergeants. Some company records were very detailed, and some were not. Figuring out how things fit together was most of the work. What could not be satisfactorily resolved was footnoted as such. By way of adding meat to the bones, these days we are lucky enough to have access to the CSRs online and essentially, these Rosters are probably 75% information that can be found in an individuals CSR. By far the largest amount of information comes from there, but it is quite a chore to organize in light of every other source. The other 25 percent comes from a combination of sources, including Henderson, the US census, Georgia Historical Societies, the National Archives, my own research material, war-time and post war rolls, Ancestry.com webpages, period newspapers, burial information from the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Find-A-Grave.com and material contributed by Henry Persons from his archive. Once all that information was assimilated, it was a matter of my editing all the information into the existing format. It was rather like throwing everything at the wall, then making sense of it by subtraction.

BR: What were some of the most surprising finds you turned up in your research?

RMA: The most poignant things were the deaths by disease. I knew the statistics, but until you go through a regiment man by man, I don’t think you can appreciate the variety of ways death was visited on these young men. The emotional impact was accumulative. You can really get strangely attached to a person or a group when you are clearing the dirt off their tombstones every day and I think the sense of responsibility was a little surprising to me.

In the lighter vein, I was totally shocked by how many Georgians had some variant of the first name Greenberry.

[FWIW, here’s a letter from a Virginian named Green Berry right here in the Bull Runnings resources!]

BR: How has the book been received? Any demographics on sales thus far?

RMA: I think for those who have seen the books, they have been received very well. I never had any illusions about creating a best seller or even something most casual students of the CW would need in their collections. Not everybody likes licorice either, but the ones that do, really like it. For the average reader, I’m pretty far in the weeds on this project, but these are very narrowly focused reference books, so I always knew that would be the case.

As simple as it sounds, I really take all my satisfaction from the fact that nobody will have to stand on a battlefield ever again and wonder who these regiments were. That’s why I made them.

BR: What’s next for you?

RMA: What is next? Well, I won’t be pumping out some new book every six months, I can tell you that. I’m satisfied with my contribution and I think my hat will hang on these Georgians for better or worse. Having completed 17 years with Anderson’s men, I did all I could for them and I willingly pass the torch. The next big thing for me is taking the trip I always wanted to take.

Lord willing, I’ll be headed to the west of Ireland for two weeks next April.





Preview – Sommers, “Challenges of Command in the Civil War”

1 07 2018

51TDgdVTcvLNew from Savas Beatie is Dr. Richard J. Sommers’s Challenges of Command in the Civil War: Generalship, Leadership, and Strategy at Gettysburg, Petersburg, and Beyond, Vol. I: Generals and Generalship. This is the first of two volumes, focusing on the actors and their performance. Volume II will look at Civil War Strategy, Operations, and Organization.

Five chapters of the ten in this volume focus on Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee throughout the war. The next five chapters examine: Union civilian corps commanders; Federal wing and corps commanders in the 1862 Maryland campaign; Federal wing and corps commanders in the Gettysburg campaign; senior Federal commanders in the fifth offensive at Petersburg; and Revolutionary War relatives of significant Civil War soldiers and politicians.

In addition to these ten chapters in 232 pages, you get:

  • An epilogue.
  • A 12 page bibliography
  • Bottom of page footnotes
  • Five tables and charts
  • Seven maps
  • 80 photographs

Dr. Sommers is a name with which all students of the American Civil War is familiar. You’ve seen his name in the acknowledgements of countless books, as he was for more than four decades associated with the Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC) in Carlisle, Pa. He has authored dozens of articles, chapters, entries, and reviews, as well as the epic Richmond Redeemed, recently updated and published by Savas Beatie.





Preview – Vermilya, “That Field of Blood”

22 06 2018

FieldofBloodECW_LRG

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

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

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





A Few Words on Two New Releases

12 06 2018

9781611213881Scan

I have a backlog of previews to write. Sorry, man, but this is my hobby, not my full time job! Two of these, from Savas Beatie, are The War Outside My Window, Janet Croon, editor, and a set of regimental rosters for the Georgia regiments (7th, 8th, 9th, & 11th) of Anderson’s Brigade, compiled by Richard M. (Rick) Allen. Both are, in my opinion, important books, for different reasons.

I have arranged for interviews with both authors. Plenty can be found on these books regarding their content, so anything I provide in way of preview, beyond these interviews, will be a little extraneous. Follow the links above to learn a little more about them, and keep an eye out for my interviews coming soon (I hope).





Another Galley

6 06 2018

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Just in from Savas Beatie is an unedited advance galley of James Pula’s Under the Crescent Moon with the XI Corps in the Civil War: Volume 2: From Gettysburg to Victory, 1863-1865. This is the second of the two-volume study, the first of which was previewed here. So, you can get the picture if you refer to that post. My main criticism of the first volume was a lack of detailed maps, a staple of Savas Beatie publications. While a skimming of this galley shows some improvement, it’s still not quite up to standards in that regard. The proof will be in the final product, as always.





Lots of Galleys from Savas Beatie

1 06 2018

I’ve received four advance galleys from Savas Beatie, two each set to release in August and September, but I’m noticing they tend to drop much more quickly than that. More will follow when I get finished products, but here’s the (very) skinny on each:

The Million Dollar Man Who Helped Kill a President: George Washington Gayle and the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, by Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr.

Forget what you thought you knew about why Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. No, it was not mere sectional hatred, Booth’s desire to become famous, Lincoln’s advocacy of black suffrage, or a plot masterminded by Jefferson Davis to win the war by crippling the Federal government. Christopher Lyle McIlwain, Sr.’s The Million-Dollar Man Who Helped Kill a President: George Washington Gayle and the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln exposes the fallacies regarding each of those theories and reveals both the mastermind behind the plot, and its true motivation.

September Mourn: The Dunker Church of Antietam Battlefield, by Alann Schmidt and Terry Barkley.

The Dunker Church is one of the most iconic structures of the American Civil War. Surprisingly, few people know much if anything about its fascinating story or the role it played within the community of Sharpsburg and its importance during and after the Battle of Antietam. September Mourn: The Dunker Church of Antietam by Alann D. Schmidt and Terry W. Barkley rectifies this oversight in the first book-length study of its kind.

I Am Perhaps Dying: The Medical Backstory of Spinal Tuberculosis Hidden in the Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, by Dennis Rasbach.

Invalid teenager Leroy Wiley Gresham left a seven-volume diary spanning the years of secession and the Civil War (1860-1865). He was just 12 when he began and he died at 17, just weeks after the war ended. His remarkable account, recently published as The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865, edited by Janet E. Croon (2018), spans the gamut of life events that were of interest to a precocious and well-educated Southern teenager—including military, political, religious, social, and literary matters of the day. This alone ranks it as an important contribution to our understanding of life and times in the Old South. But it is much more than that. Chronic disease and suffering stalk the young writer, who is never told he is dying until just before his death.

Dr. Rasbach, a graduate of Johns Hopkins medical school and a practicing general surgeon with more than three decades of experience, was tasked with solving the mystery of LeRoy’s disease. Like a detective, Dr. Rasbach peels back the layers of mystery by carefully examining the medical-related entries. What were LeRoy’s symptoms? What medicines did doctors prescribe for him? What course did the disease take, month after month, year after year? The author ably explores these and other issues in I Am Perhaps Dying to conclude that the agent responsible for LeRoy’s suffering and demise turns out to be Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a tiny but lethal adversary of humanity since the beginning of recorded time.

Union Soldiers in the American Civil War: Facts and Photos for Readers of All Ages, by Lance J. Herdegen.

Union Soldiers offers a complete guide for Civil War enthusiasts of all ages. Herdegen employs nearly 100 photographs coupled with clear and concise prose broken down into short, easy to understand chapters to better understand these men. Coverage includes such varied topics as the organization of the Union Army, learning to be soldiers, winter campaigning, photography, sick call, nurses, religion, discipline, prisoner of war camps, weaponry, uniforms, as well as numbers and losses and the strengths of the various Union armies. It also examines the participation of U.S. Color Troops and the role played by African Americans during the Civil War. This handy reference book includes a list of Civil War points of interest, some bookshelf suggestions, and a glossary of Civil War terms.