Old friend John Hennessy has written a very interesting post on the Mysteries and Conundrums blog, wherein he addresses the positives and negatives of doing in-depth historical Internet research. I’ve been the beneficiary of John’s largesse–he has shared many of the cavalry-related newspaper articles that he has found with me, including as recently as last week when sent me an entire run of 22 articles by a trooper of the 3rd Indiana Cavalry that appeared in a long-defunct newspaper from Vevay, Indiana called the Vevay Reveille. I’ve actually been toying with the idea of transcribing them all and posting them here.
John is, of course, absolutely correct. Internet access to newspapers–some of my favorite sources, by the way–makes it possible to search for this material almost endlessly. But, as John also correctly points out, you definitely hit a point of diminishing returns, usually sooner than later. Quotable quotes are great, of course, but spending hours pouring through stuff for a single quotable sentence becomes a real question of diminishing returns. At some point, you have to decide, “I’ve fought the good fight on the research. It’s now time to put pen to paper and see what I can do with this story.” That means quitting the research process–and accepting the inevitable truth that you will never find EVERYTHING on a Civil War subject–and taking your best shot at writing whatever it is that you’re going to write about. That’s a very difficult thing to do, because you WANT to find everything, but the truth is that you won’t.
When we were writing One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863, the amount of material available on sites like Google Books and the Internet Archive meant that we spent hours and hours and hours searching for material. It meant that we used over 1100 sources in writing the book, but it also meant countless hours of searching, reams of paper and several toner cartridges printing, and then incorporating the material. Don’t get me wrong–I am EXTREMELY proud of what we accomplished with that book, and with the extent and amount of research we invested in it–but I never imagined that we would end up looking at and citing to more than 1100 sources when we started the project, and had that mountain of material not been so readily available, we never would have used as much as we did. We finally had to say “enough” and pull the plug on the researching because we realized that we had hit the point of diminishing returns.
As John correctly points out, the availability of these materials only makes it tougher to know when to call it quits on the research. It’s a fight I constantly fight.Scridb filter
The following report of the activities of the 1st Vermont Cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign, written by its temporary commander, Lt. Col. Addison W. Preston, does not appear anywhere in either the Official Records or the Supplement to the Official Records. Preston wrote this report during the retreat from Gettysburg on the same day that the nasty fight at Funkstown occurred. It was published in the Rutland, VT newspaper on August 8, 1863, and differs from the report that appears in the Official Records. It was one of the new sources that I employed in preparing the second edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions. Since it is not available to the public, I thought I would share it here. Enjoy.
Boonsboro, Md., July 10
P. T. Washburn.
Adj. and Insp. Gen. of Vt.,
I beg leave to make the following report of engagements of the 1st Vermont Cavalry with the enemy in Maryland and Pennsylvania, from June 30 to July 8, 1863. At Hanover, Penn., June 30, aided in repelling an attack by General Stewart’s forces. Cos. M and D, under Capts. Woodward and Cummings, charged through the town, repulsing the enemy and capturing many prisoners. The rest of the regiment supported a battery until the enemy were driven from the field.
At Huntersville, Penn., July 2, in an attack upon the left of Gen. Lee’s army, this regiment was deployed as skirmishers, and subjected to a severe fire from the enemy’s batteries.
July 3, in the attack made by Gen. Kilpatrick on the right flank of the enemy at Gettysburg, this cavalry had the advance. Cos. A, D, E and I, dismounted, were deployed as skirmishers and soon drove the enemy’s skirmishers back of their main lines. The contest was continued by the opposing batteries and dismounted carbineers until 5 o’clock P.M., when Gen. Farnsworth, commanding the brigade was ordered to charge the enemy strongly posted behind stone walls and in the woods, which proved to be Maj. Gen. Hood’s division of infantry. With the 1st Va. Cavalry on the left and the 2d battalion of the 1st Vt. under Maj. Wells on the right, Gen. Farnsworth dashed forward closely followed by his men, leaping one stone wall under a severe fire. Our force drove the enemy in all directions. They then passed over another stone wall and through the enemy’s skirmish line and toward the Rebel batteries and succeeded in piercing the enemy’s 2d line, where many of our dead were found. I moved to the support of the 2d Battalion, with the 1st under Capt. Parsons, and a part under Capt. Grover. On the hill between the two walls we encountered a fresh regiment of the enemy, sent in from the right to intercept the retreat of our first column and to re-establish their lines. The struggle for this hill became most desperate but was at length carried by our boys with severe loss, the greater part of the enemy being captured. Our loss this day in killed, wounded and missing, was 75 men.
July 4th, we marched 50 miles to the rear of the enemy, and on the morning of the 5th at Lightersville, Md., captured one hundred prisoners, a drove of cattle and several wagons, and marched to Hagerstown the same night, twelve hours in advance of Lee’s army.
July 6th, our division attacked the retreating enemy at Hagerstown. Cos. D and L dismounted here, drove the enemy from a strong position and occupied it; Cos. A and D held a portion of the town against a superior force until ordered to retire in the afternoon, when a portion being cut off, were secreted by the Union citizens until our forces reoccupied it on the 12th.
In the retiring of this division at night on the Williamsport Road in the face of Lee’s army, this regiment formed a part of the rear guard, and suffered severely from assaults made upon it by superior numbers. Twice we were nearly surrounded. Capt. Beaman, with the 3d squadron, whom I ordered to hold a strong position, being cut off was ordered to surrender. He coolly replied, “I don’t see it,” and leaped a fence and by a flank movement escaped with his nearly entire force. Capt. Woodward, of Co. M, a brave officer, was killed at the head of his men, strongly resisting the advancing foe. The charge was now made by Co. K, under Capt. Grover, upon the main column of the enemy, which aided materially in checking their progress. A battery was now opened upon us by the enemy in the direction of Williamsport, and being thus attacked in front and rear we drew off under cover of night to the Sharpsburg Road on the left.
July 8, Gen. Stewart with a large force attacked our cavalry at Boonsboro early in the morning. The 1st Vt. was held in reserve until the afternoon, then it was sent by detachments to various parts of the field to strengthen our lines. At sundown a spirited charge was made by the 2d battalion under Major Wells upon the retreating enemy, and the sabres were freely used on both sides. Were I to give you a list of the meritorious it would comprise the names of every officer and enlisted man engaged.
I remain your very ob’t serv’t,
A. W. Preston,
Lt. Col. Com’g 1st Vt. Cavalry
Here are a few notes on this report:
1. A small part of the microfilmed copy of the newspaper article addressing Farnsworth’s Charge–part of one sentence–is obscured and is difficult to read. I made my best guess at what it says and I think it’s correct, but I’m not entirely certain.
2. The Huntersville that Colonel Preston refers to is actually the town of Hunterstown, PA, which is approximately 8 miles from the main battlefield at Gettysburg. There was a meeting engagement there between Kilpatrick’s division and Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry brigade there on the afternoon of July 2, 1863.
3. The Lightersville referred to by Colonel Preston is actually the town of Leitersburg, MD, which is located a short distance from Hagerstown. Kilpatrick sent the 1st Vermont in the direction of Leitersburg on the morning of July 5 to pursue a Confederate wagon train while the rest of the Third Cavalry Division went to Smithsburg, where it spent most of the day skirmishing with Confederate cavalry and horse artillery before retreating to Boonsboro, where Kilpatrick’s division joined Brig. Gen. John Biford’s First Cavalry Division.
4. The regular commander of the 1st Vermont Cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign was Col. Edward B. Sawyer, and Preston was normally second in command. Col. Sawyer was on medical leave, putting Preston in command of the regiment in his absence. Sawyer reported back to the regiment on July 10, 1863, the day that Preston penned this report. Sawyer’s return to duty may explain the otherwise odd timing of this report, considering that the campaign was still under way and that the armies were still north of the Potomac River on that date. Preston was killed in action on June 3, 1864 at Hawes Shop, Virginia. Preston was a good and brave soldier. He will soon be the subject of a forgotten cavalryman profile that I’m working on.
This photo is of the monument to the 1st Vermont Cavalry and sits near the spot where Elon J. Farnsworth was killed while leading the eponymous but unsuccessful charge on the afternoon of July 3, 1863.
This account of the activities of the 1st Vermont Cavalry adds to our understanding of Farnsworth’s Charge by providing a different report, and it also adds to our understanding of the critical role played by the 1st Vermont during the retreat from Hagerstown to Williamsport after Kilpatrick was driven out of Hagerstown on July 6, 1863.Scridb filter
People occasionally ask me why I have been involved in so many collaborations over the course of my writing career. I’ve done two different books with my good friend J.D. Petruzzi (one of which also included our friend Mike Nugent). Michael Aubrecht, and we have two more books in the works (one on baseball and one on football) that we’re going to do together. I recently announced an upcoming collaboration with Prof. Brooks D. Simpson on the role of future President James A. Garfield in the Civil War. I’ve also got collaborations in the works with old friend Scott Mingus, Sr. on the Second Battle of Winchester, and one with yet another old friend, Scott C. Patchan, on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
This is a lot of collaborative work on a wide variety of subjects. And that’s my entire list of pending projects at the moment, and all are collaborations. Why is that? That’s a reasonable question.
There are a variety of reasons.
First, and foremost, I am not a professional historian. I’m an amateur. That gives me the luxury of working only on those projects that I want to work on, and none that I have to work on. The truth is that I have always written about what interests me. If others find those things interesting, all the better. But when I choose a topic/project, it’s because it’s what I find interesting. So, this means that I have no “publish or perish” issue to contend with. Fortunately, my friends often share an interest in those subjects, which is what makes the collaboration possible.
Second, I thoroughly enjoy the give-and-take of collaborating with a friend. I find it to be both stimulating and fun. And it gives me a new way of interacting with someone whose opinions and intellect I respect and admire.
Third, I find that the old cliche that “two heads are better than one” is absolutely a true statement. One of the beautiful things about working with these accomplished historians is that I get to discuss/debate/hash out a lot of interesting issues with people whose opinions I respect a great deal. I enjoy that immensely. And hopefully that process leads to better history.
Fourth, with 17 books in print and a couple of significant awards on the mantle, I have proven that I can research and write a decent Civil War history book. It means that I’ve earned my spurs and now have some credibility as a result. Because I do this for fun, I don’t have to write another word for the rest of my life if I choose not to, and if I never write another word, I will still be the proud author of a large body of work that people seem to like. This gives me the luxury of picking and choosing what I want to do and with whom I do it. It’s entirely possible that I may not do another solo project again the rest of my life, and if I do, it will be because something appeals to me enough to get me to invest the money, time, and effort required to write one of these books as a solo project.As I sit here now, I cannot predict whether that will happen.
So, that’s the answer as to why I’m involved in so many collaborations. For those of you who enjoy my historical work and are interested in it, please don’t be surprised by the number of collaborations that will be forthcoming, or by the lack of solo projects. And I hope that you enjoy all of those collaborations.Scridb filter
As you may recall, last month, I announced that I had decided to do a book on the role played by James A. Garfield in the Civil War. Before deciding to do so, I polled a number of the professional historians that I know, asking them whether they thought that the project was worthy and whether they thought that it would spark interest in the topic. I asked about 10. Nine answered me. All were unanimous in their support, which prompted me to decide to run with the project.
One of the professionals whom I polled was Prof. Brooks Simpson of Arizona State University. I’ve known Brooks for nearly 15 years now, and have long wanted to do a project with him. In fact, we’ve discussed ideas for projects previously, but never could find one that seemed appropriate. Of all of the people I polled, Brooks had the most good suggestions for me for the Garfield project, so I asked him if he might be interested in doing the project with me. To my excitement, Brooks said yes.
And so, I am pleased and proud to announce that Brooks and I are going to collaborate to do the study of Garfield in the Civil War. Brooks really understand the nuances of Garfield’s political career during the war, including his complicated relationship with U. S. Grant, and will be able to bring insight that I would not be able to bring to bear, even though I was a political science major once upon a time. I’m really looking forward to getting a chance to work with someone whom I have always respected and admired (even if he is a New York Islanders fan), and I think it’s going to make for an excellent project.
A couple of weeks ago, two friends and I toured the sites associated with Garfield’s campaign in eastern Kentucky in the winter and spring of 1861-1862 in preparation for doing this project, and I will post some photos from that day soon. We saw some sites that few visit, which made it all the more interesting.
The ordeal with my parents that I related here in April has finally come to its sad but inevitable conclusion. At the end of June, and left with no choice, I had to place both of my parents in the secure dementia unit of a nursing home, and we then had the unhappy and incredibly difficult task of closing out their home of 37 years, a miserable job that we completed this past weekend. The numerous and exhausting trips to Pennsylvania are the reason for the lack of any posts here over the past month. Saying goodbye forever to the last remaining vestige of one’s childhood is not a fun thing to do, but it’s now behind me and I can move forward now with the knowledge that they are safe and being well cared for by some truly remarkable angels on earth. Give me a few more days to regain my perspective and get some rest, and I will be ready to get back to work. I’m looking forward to starting this next chapter in my life, and getting back to the research and writing work that means so much to me.
I will keep you advised as to the progress of our Garfield project as it proceeds. And I thank you for your support and patience with me as I weathered this ordeal.Scridb filter
I’ve long been known as the “cavalry guy” due to my ongoing fascination with the horse soldiers of the Civil War. That will always be my niche and my favorite milieu. I’m comfortable with that, because it’s what I love.
At the same time, I have lots of other interests. Some of them are passing fancies. Some get pursued. Some don’t. One of my longtime fascinations is with the Battle of Monocacy. J.D. Petruzzi and I were well into researching a book on the topic, but a barrage of four books were published in a short period of time about this important campaign, and any potential market for such a project dried up. That was the end of that. However, I continue to be fascinated by this battle, and I still gobble up everything that I can on it.
I have other projects where I have invested substantial time, money, and effort and then lost interest. I have gathered a vast amount of material on the Wilson-Kautz Raid of 1864–much of it rare and never seen before–certainly enough to do a book-length study of it, but I’ve just lost interest in it. It doesn’t interest me enough to invest the time and energy into actually writing a full campaign study on it, and I doubt I will ever do so. So, I’ve got tons of files on it that I doubt I will ever use. The Jenkins-Imboden incursion into Pennsylvania before Gettysburg is another good example of the same thing. Again, I have tons of material that I doubt will ever get used by me in any substantive project.
All of this is part and parcel of my ongoing struggles with ADD. I just have a short attention span, and things either grab it or they don’t. I write about what interests me, so whatever project I tackle has to REALLY interest me, or I won’t bother with it.
I grew up a few blocks away from a street called Garfield Avenue. There were two streets named for former presidents in our neighborhood, Garfield Avenue and Cleveland Avenue. I knew Grover Cleveland had served two terms as president and was known for his girth. I knew almost nothing about James A. Garfield other than that he was assassinated a scant few months into his presidency, so I set out to learn a few things about him.
Along the way, I learned that he was a veteran of the Civil War. After researching him a bit, I determined that was really a unique guy–he was a battlefield veteran who resigned his commission to become a very powerful and influential Radical Republican Congressman. I knew that he had a great deal of influence of Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans’ ill-advised decision to leave the battlefield at Chickamauga.
Finally, Garfield was an Ohioan. He was born here, he lived here, and he is buried here. That makes researching his career a bit easier because the resources are nearby. The Middle Creek battlefield, where Garfield won a critical early 1862 battle that cleared Confederate forces out of eastern Kentucky, is only a couple of hours away.
After reading the very good book Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, I looked and saw that there really has been no monograph that focuses exclusively on Garfield’s very unique role in the Civil War, which surprised me. A volume of his letters to his wife Lucretia during the Civil War was published in the early 1960’s, and his diaries were published in the late 1970’s, but that’s it. All other books–understandably–focus on his unusual election to the presidency, the tragedy of his wounding at the hands of a lunatic, and his unnecessary death due to medical malpractice of the worst variety.
By contrast, two other Ohioans who occupied the White House who were Civil War veterans–Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley–have had books written about their service in the Civil War. Hence, the lack of any monograph about Garfield’s important and unique service in the Civil War seems to me to be a gaping hole in the historiography of the war.
Consequently, after much thought and after discussing the idea with a number of professional historians to get their input, I have decided to tackle this project. It is something very different for me, but the deeper I get into it, the more fascinating I find the project. Consequently, I have begun gathering material and intend to pursue this. I will keep everyone posted as the project proceeds, but I’m more excited about this project than any other history project that I’ve tackled in quite a while.Scridb filter
The original edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions was published in 1998. It won the Robert E. Lee Civil War Roundtable of Central New Jersey’s annual Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award as 1998’s best new work interpreting the Battle of Gettysburg. That was very exciting, heady stuff for a first-time author, and winning that award for my first book remains one of the highlights of my life. The handsome crystal prize itself occupies a place of honor in my office.
A couple of weeks ago, I was informed that the new edition, which has been slightly re-titled as Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions: Farnsworth’s Charge, South Cavalry Field, and the Battle of Fairfield, July 3, 1863, has also won a prestigious award. Here’s the full press release announcing the award:
Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions by author Eric Wittenberg was selected as the 2011 winner of The Army Historical Foundation’s Distinguished Writing Award for the reprint category. The Army Historical Foundation has an annual awards program to recognize books and articles that have made a distinctive contribution to U.S. Army history.
Wittenberg’s Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions previously won the Bachelder-Coddington award upon its initial release. Now with a completely revised and redesigned edition Wittenberg has won another major award.
“Considering that the original edition of the book won an award, I find it especially gratifying that the new edition was also recognized,” said Wittenberg. “The new edition is a completely different book, and it deserves to be judged on its own merits. I’m grateful to the good folks at Savas Beatie for sharing my vision for it, and I am similarly grateful to the Army Historical Foundation for honoring it.”
Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions is a fully revised edition that adds extensive new research, interpretations, and conclusions about the Battle of Gettysburg’s Farnsworth’s Charge, South Cavalry Field, and the Battle of Fairfield, July 3, 1863. The revised edition includes: nearly 15,000 words of new material, including a new appendix (co-authored with J. David Petruzzi), a walking and driving tour complete with GPS coordinates, updated photographs to reflect the modern appearance of the Gettysburg battlefield, and a new map.
“Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions is an influential book and we are honored that it was given this prestigious award,” explained Savas Beatie’s Managing Director Theodore P. Savas. “Eric is a true trail blazer in the arena of Civil War Cavalry research and writing and we are proud of our ongoing relationship with him.”
Candidates are nominated by their publishers. Each candidate receives an initial screening. A select Awards Committee of distinguished military historians and writers carefully judge the finalists. Each finalist is judged against the following four criteria: Significance to U.S. Army History, quality of writing (e.g. clarity, style and analysis), historical accuracy, and presentation (e.g. use of maps, photographs or other materials).
The Distinguished Book and Article Award consists of a distinctive plaque and a nominal cash prize to the author. The winners are announced to the public at the Annual Meeting of the Army Historical Foundation in June of each year. The Army Historical Foundation, a non-profit, tax-exempt organization, is dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of the American soldier. Its goal is to promote greater public appreciation for the contributions that America’s Army – Active, Reserve, and National Guard – has made to the nation in 233 years of service.
The AHF Distinguished Writing Awards program was established in 1997 to recognize authors who make a significant contribution to the literature on U.S. Army history. Each year nominations are submitted to the Awards Committee by publishers and journal editors. A small group of finalists are selected and a final judging is made. For more information on the Foundation and its activities, please visit the AHF website.
To say the least, I am honored, flattered, and humbled all at the same time. Knowing that both editions of my first book have been honored with major awards tells me that I’ve done what I set out to do, which is to tell the stories of the men who fought, suffered, and died in those forgotten cavalry actions at Gettysburg and Fairfield, and that I’ve hopefully done so with respect and accuracy. It brings a certain symmetry too, knowing that both editions have been similarly recognized.
Congratulations are also in order to my friends Scott Mingus, Sr. and James A. Morgan, III, whose new editions–also by Savas-Beatie–were also nominated for the same award in the same category. Even if I had not won the award, I still would have won. The late, lamented Ironclad Publishing published the first editions of their books, and I was the one who talked Jim Morgan into writing his book in the first place. It’s wonderful being in the company of two old friends, and I congratulate them on the recognition that their fine books have received.
I am grateful to my friends at Savas-Beatie for bringing my book back into print, and for allowing me to do it the way I wanted to see it done. I am similarly grateful to Ted Savas, who shares my philosophy about what makes a good book, and for sharing my belief that no book can ever have too many maps or too many illustrations. And I am likewise grateful to all of your for your unflagging support over the years.Scridb filter
So far, the response to You Stink! Major League Baseball’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players has been 100% positive, and sales have been brisk. Neither Michael nor I could be more pleased. Thank you to all of your for support.
We are now offering autographed copies for sale on our website. They make great Father’s Day gifts. Order now before it’s too late!
Yesterday, our publisher, the Kent State University Press, came to us and made a formal request that we agree to do You Stink Too! Pro Football’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players, and we have agreed to do so. The Press is sending us an advance contract, and we will begin work this fall. Michael and I are very excited with the reception for You Stink! and for the fact that our publisher has sufficient faith in us and in our ability to create a second book that will be as fun and entertaining s the first one was.
Stay tuned. We will keep you posted as to progress as we begin compiling You Stink Too!.Scridb filter
Of late, I’ve been particularly intrigued by the aborted Mine Run Campaign, which is notable both for what it was as well as for what it might have been. There wasn’t a lot of fighting, largely because Gouverneur K. Warren refused to attack Robert E. Lee, who was dug in and in a nearly impregnable position. When George Meade saw that, he validated Warren’s decision and pulled back. It makes for an interesting study in command, and the campaign lacks anything definitive in terms of a study. Many of the same problems that plagued Meade in the days immediately after the Battle of Gettysburg–namely, being stuck with inferior corps commanders such as William “Blinky” French as a result of the loss of three corps commanders at Gettysburg–and Old Blinky gets the lion’s share of the blame for the lack of any real fighting at Mine Run.
Would you readers find such a book interesting, even though there’s not a lot of fighting? I’m trying to decide whether to try to do a book-length study, and I’m looking from input from you–the folks who would buy such a book–whether you would find it interesting enough to want to read it. Please don’t hold back, and please let me know your thoughts.
Here is the final cover art for You Stink: Major League Baseball’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players, the baseball book that I’ve written with Michael Aubrecht. The image on the cover is a classic Norman Rockwell painting titled “The Dugout”, which depicts the 1949 Chicago Cubs. The batboy’s expression says most of what needs to be said, but the looks on the faces of the players in the dugout truly depict what we were trying to accomplish with this book. I’m tickled that the Kent State University Press decided to take our recommendation that that image grace the cover of our book.
Dave Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic, who wrote the foreword to our book, said it best: “This is why we are baseball fans. Of course, we want to be champions but sometimes the hope from the eternal loser is stronger and more real than celebration of the perennial winners. So sit back and enjoy this celebration of the “most neglected topic in the annals of baseball history” and remember—it could be worse . . . you could be a Cubbies fan.”
The best news of all: the book went to the printer today!
Thirty-eight years after I came up with the idea for this book, it’s finally coming to fruition. I couldn’t be more excited. Pre-orders for signed copies will now be accepted. The cost is $24.95 per copy, with $3.95 shipping and handling. It’s $1.00 per copy in additional shipping and handling for those who order multiple copies.Scridb filter
This evening, I have added a link to my friend Steve Cunningham’s excellent West Virginia in the Civil War website under the “Civil War Sites” category. Take a few minutes and check out Steve’s site, which is chock-full of good and useful information. You won’t be disappointed.Scridb filter