Research and Writing

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.

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I’ve known about this for a couple of weeks, and it’s been incredibly difficult resisting the urge to talk about it in public.

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.

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23 May 2012, by

You Stink Too!

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!.

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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.


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16 Mar 2012, by

You Stink update

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.

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29 Nov 2011, by

New link added

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.

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For those of you who have been waiting for the release of my book on the Battle of White Sulphur Springs, here’s an update for you. I finished my review of the draft of the index for the book yesterday and signed off on it. That means that I have now completely signed off on the page proofs. As soon as my final changes get made, it’s ready for final proofread and then it’s off to the printer.

I will keep you posted as to release date once I know it.

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I got the cover art for my new book, The Battle of White Sulphur Springs: Averell Fails to Secure West Virginia, today. It’s below. See what you think:

If you click on the image itself, you will get a larger version of it that is far more legible. I should note that the text in the box on the back cover is still in draft form and is still being tweaked. It is NOT the final copy for the back cover.

The book is scheduled to be released about Halloween.

I’ll be happy to take orders for signed copies for those who are interested. Please use the “contact me” button above to let me know that you want a copy, and I can then let you know how to proceed from there.

I’m excited to see it in print.

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12 Sep 2011, by

Further update

Ted Savas informed me today that the new edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions is at the printer now, and that books will be available in about three weeks. If anyone is interested in a signed copy, please contact me via the “Contact me” button above. The new edition will retail for $17.95, which is still a bargain price.

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29 Aug 2011, by

Project updates

The last several weeks have been insanely busy, trying to tackle the wrap-up of two projects at once.

The one closest to fruition is the new edition of my first book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, which has a slightly different title. I have completed my review of the page galleys, and it’s being indexed. As soon as the index is done, it’s off to the printer. The new edition features about 14,000 words worth of new material in the main text, lots of additional photos, a replaced map, and a new appendix that addresses the question of where Farnsworth’s Charge actually happened (co-authored with my writing partner, J.D. Petruzzi) of about 5500 or so words, and walking/driving tours complete with GPS coordinates. The original edition was approximately 140 pages. The new edition will be 225-230 pages in length, so there’s obviously quite a bit of new stuff. That one will be out late September/early October.

The other is that I have submitted my White Sulphur Springs manuscript to The History Press. The tentative title is The Battle of White Sulphur Springs: Averell Fails to Secure West Virginia, and it addresses the August 26-27, 1863 Battle of White Sulphur Springs. Although the battle involved only 4000 men of both sides, it had great strategic significance for both sides, and mine is the first detailed tactical treatment it has ever received. The maps are being done by master cartographer Steve Stanley. The book is being copy-edited as I write this, and if all goes according to schedule, it should be out on or about November 1. That will be my first new title in about 18 months.

I’m excited about both. Stay tuned for more as we get closer, and I will update on both.

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