Research and Writing

My co-author, Michael Aubrecht, and I learned some great news today that I want to share with you.

When I was 13 years old, I came up with the idea of doing a book about the worst teams in the history of major league baseball. The problem is that I knew nothing about how to research or write such a book, and the idea was shelved. Several years ago, I described my idea to Michael, and he loved it. We decided to tackle the project, and completed the manuscript about 18 months ago. The project is titled YOU STINK! Major League Baseball’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players. It’s a lighthearted but respectful look at just what the title suggests–terrible teams and pathetic players.

We had trouble locating a publisher for it for a variety of reasons, and the process has dragged on for far longer than either one of us might have liked. However, today, we learned that one of my prior publishers, The Kent State University Press, will be publishing YOU STINK! in 2012, and hopefully in time for the 2012 baseball season. Michael and I have some revisions to make, but we’re thrilled that it’s going to be in print.

The coolest part is knowing that this idea I had 36 years ago is going to finally and fully come to fruition and that my idea will end up in print. To say I’m tickled doesn’t do it justice.

I will keep you posted as to the progress of the project.

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Thanks to Glenn Williams, National Park Service historian for sharing this. I hereby adopt this as my code.

A Historian’s Code

1. I will footnote (or endnote) all my sources (none of this MLA or social science parenthetical business).

2. If I do not reference my sources accurately, I will surely perish in the fires of various real or metaphorical infernal regions and I will completely deserve it. I have been warned.

3. I will respect the hard-won historical gains of those historians in whose steps I walk and will share such knowledge as is mine with all other historians (as they doubtless will cheerfully share it with me).

4. I will not be ashamed to say “I do not know” or to change my narrative of historical events when new sources point to my errors.

5. I will never leave a fallen book behind.

6. I will acknowledge that history is created by people and not by impersonal cosmic forces or “isms.” An “ism” by itself never harmed or helped anyone without human agency.

7. I am not a sociologist, political scientist, international relations-ist, or any other such “ist.” I am a historian and deal in facts, not models.

8. I know I have a special responsibility to the truth and will seek, as fully as I can, to be thorough, objective, careful, and balanced in my judgments, relying on primary source documents whenever possible.

9. Life may be short, but history is forever. I am a servant of forever.

By Richard Stewart, Ph.D., “Historians and a Historian’s Code,” ARMY HISTORY, No. 77 (Fall 2010), p. 46.

Works for me.

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A number of months ago, I posted about Capt. Paul von Koenig, who was killed at the Battle of White Sulphur Springs, and who obviously plays a major role in the tale of that battle that I am beginning to write. I had a really difficult time finding anything substantive about him for a long time, and almost nothing about his life in Germany. The bulk of what I found deals strictly with his short 2.5 years here in the United States.

Captain von Koenig was actually Baron von Koenig, and he was a member of an ancient ennobled family from Lower Saxony that dates back to at least the 17th Century. One of Paul von Koenig’s brothers was a lieutenant general of cavalry in the Kaiser’s army during World War I. That brother, Lt. Gen. Gotz von Koenig, had a son who became a famous painter. Leo von Koenig, the painter, had a son named Dominik, who is now 66 years old.

This past week, Freiherr (Baron) Dr. Dominik von Koenig contacted me after his son found my postings about Paul von Koenig on this blog. Baron von Koenig has been unfailingly generous with me, and has agreed to provide me with some family reminiscences of Paul von Koenig written by one of the captain’s brothers. I’ve asked him to help me to locate some family history on the von Koenig family so that I can elaborate a bit on just who this man and his family were. He’s agreed to talk to one of his cousins, who still owns the family estate in Lower Saxony, to see whether there might be an image of Paul von Koenig somewhere in the family so that I can use it in the book if one exists.

In return, I will be able to solve some family myths/mysteries for him and to elaborate on his great-uncle’s brave performance during the American Civil War. Captain von Koenig died while leading a flank attack on the Confederate infantry at White Sulphur Springs.

To make a long story short, Baron von Koenig’s coming forward and offering to help me will enable me to do something that I really wanted to do with my White Sulphur Springs project, which is to include an appendix on Paul von Koenig that really tells his fascinating story. It will flesh out the book and make an interesting story even more interesting.

I am very grateful to Baron von Koenig for coming forward and offering to help me.

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21 Jun 2010, by


One of the myths that J. D. Petruzzi and I tried to dispel in our book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg is the criticism that Jeb Stuart failed to take steps to provide intelligence to Robert E. Lee during his ride to Gettysburg. That criticism is not well-founded, as Stuart did, indeed, forward significant intelligence to the Confederate authorities.

We know this because a June 27, 1863 dispatch from Stuart, reporting that the Army of the Potomac had moved north toward Leesburg and the Potomac River and had abandoned its base of operations at Fairfax Court House, was published in John Beauchamp Jones’ excellent 1866 book A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary. As the title suggests, Jones worked in the Confederate War Department, and saw these dispatches as they came through. Jones included the language of the dispatch in his book in its entirety. We quoted it verbatim in the book and cited to Jones’ book as the source.

So, we know for a fact that the report was received by the Confederate War Department, and we know for a fact that the report is available for use by researchers in a prominent and well-known source.

Yesterday, while searching the online archive of the Richmond Dispatch newspaper, I found the article below, which was published in the July 2, 1863 edition of the paper:

Capture of Fairfax C. H.–Hooker’s army.

The following official dispatch was received at the War Department Tuesday night:

Headq’rs Cav. Div.,
June 27, 1863.

General S. Cooper:

I took possession of Fairfax C. H. this morning at 9 o’clock, together with a large quantity of stores. The main body of Hooker’s army has gone towards Leesburg, except the garrison of Alexandria and Washington which has retreated within the fortifications.

Very respectfully,
Your ob’t serv’t,

J. E. B. Stuart,

Major General.

So, the dispatch obviously was published in the newspaper verbatim, meaning it was published in two common, well-known sources. I acknowledge that I didn’t know about its being published in the newspaper before yesterday, and J. D. didn’t either. Nevertheless, the Richmond Dispatch has long been fertile ground for Civil War researchers, and that fact is no secret. Indeed, anyone working on the Eastern Theater of the Civil War proceeds with their projects at their own peril if they don’t at least check the Dispatch, the Richmond Times, and the other handful of daily newspapers that were published in Richmond during the Civil War.

What I really don’t understand is how, with this dispatch having been published in two prominent, conspicuous places, all of the researchers who have looked at Stuart’s Ride in the past, including the likes of Douglas Southall Freeman, could have missed it. It’s truly a mystery to me. And it makes me wonder if it was a deliberate choice to miss it.

As Alice said to the Cheshire Cat, “It gets curiouser and curiouser.”

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Thanks to help from several of you, and especially from fellow Buckeye Chris Van Blargan, the mystery of Paul von Koenig and of his brother, Lt. Gen. Goetz Friedrich Wilhelm Ulrich, Freiherr von Koenig, has been solved. Lt. Gen. von Koenig was a cavalry officer–he commanded a German cavalry corps during World War I, and was awarded the Blue Max in 1915, which was Imperial Germany’s highest military decoration.

Paul von Koenig was apparently something of a soldier of fortune who was wounded in combat five times while fighting in Mexico before the Civil War. He and his brother Robert von Koenig both fought during the Second Bull Run Campaign, and Paul von Keonig became good friends with future president James Garfield in New York City during the fall of 1862. I also have von Koenig’s service records coming from the National Archives.

I will now be able to give this brace and capable officer the sort of detail and tribute that he deserves when I start writing my work on the Battle of White Sulphur Springs in a few weeks. I am extremely pleased about that, and grateful to all of you who helped me to unravel this particular mystery. Thank you for your help. I am in your collective debt.

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One of the more enduring and more intriguing puzzles associated with the Battle of White Sulphur Springs is finding information regarding Capt. Paul von Koenig, who was killed in action on the first day of the battle, August 26, 1863. Koenig was killed while leading a flank attack of elements of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry on the afternoon of the first day. In 1914, Col. James M. Schoonmaker of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry arranged for a monument to be placed on the spot where Koenig was killed and buried. Although the monument has been moved (and I don’t know whether Koenig’s body was, although I assume it was) because the field where it was originally placed is now a strip shopping center, it is still there on the battlefield to this day.

Why Koenig was there at all is the mystery I am trying to unravel. I have been unable to dig up much about him at all. Here’s what I know: Paul von Koenig was a German baron who came to the United States at the beginning of the war with a brother. He was commissioned as a captain in the 68th New York Infantry, a largely German unit that ended up as part of the 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. At the time that he was commissioned in 1861, von Koenig was 25 years old. And that’s 100% of what I know about this man.

I have learned that his is an ancient and ennobled German family; there is presently an incumbent Baron von Koenig in Germany, whom I have tried unsuccessfully to contact. The regimental history of the 14th Pennsylvania suggests that one of his brothers attended the dedication of the monument to him on the battlefield, and that the brother was a lieutenant general in the German army in the days immediately prior to the outbreak of World War I, but I have been unable to verify that or learn the brother’s name if it is, indeed, true.

What I have yet to unravel is the mystery of the question why von Koenig was serving with W. W. Averell’s cavalry brigade in the first place, since he was an infantry officer. Further, the bulk of Averell’s brigade was made up of West Virginia cavalrymen, with one regiment of Pennsylvanians–the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry–and NO New Yorkers at all. Averell evidently trusted the young baron, because he spoke highly of him and evidently used him for important tasks during the time the two served together.

I will have von Koenig’ service records in a week or so, and can only hope that there might be some indication in them as to why von Koenig was serving with Averell. Often, pension files can be the source of really valuable information, but given that von Koenig was a German baron, I don’t expect there to be a pension file in his case.

So, I want to invite you, my readers, to see if any of you have ever heard of Capt. Paul, Baron von Koenig, and, if you have, if you have any information as to how he came to serve with William Woods Averell’s Fourth Separate Brigade in August 1863. Thanks–I hope someone knows something about this forgotten officer.

These are the stories/mysteries that keep me coming back to continue doing this sort of work, and solving them is always the most rewarding part of what I do.

UPDATE, MAY 11, 2010: Well, the mystery of why he was there has been solved. I just got von Koenig’s service records from the National Archives, and those service records provided the answer.

In September 1862, von Koenig was assigned to serve as the ordnance officer to Maj. Gen. Carl Schurz’s Third Division, 11th Corps. In March 1863, just after the formation of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, von Koenig was assigned to serve as an aide-de-camp on the staff of Brig. Gen. William W. Averell, then commanding the Army of the Potomac’s Second Cavalry Division. When Averell was relieved of command in May 1863 and sent west to take command of the Fourth Independent Brigade (the command he led at White Sulphur Springs), he took von Koenig with him.

That is the answer to the question as to why von Koenig was there. It was a really interesting puzzle to unravel. The next mystery, which I really doubt that I will be able to solve, is why von Koenig joined the staff of Averell in March 1863.

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Yesterday, I signed a contract with The History Press for a volume on Averell’s August 1863 Law Book Raid, which led to the August 26-27, 1863 Battle of White Sulphur Springs. Averell’s West Virginia and western Pennsylvania cavalry fought the infantry brigade of Col. George S. Patton in White Sulphur Springs, a couple of miles from The Greenbrier.

It’s never had any sort of a book-length study, and it’s probably overdue for one. Terry Lowry, who has done some good work on the Civil War in West Virginia, has agreed to show me the battlefield, and lots of people are helping me with it.

Unfortunately, the battlefield has been largely obliterated. A strip shopping center occupies most of the battlefield, and the three monuments that were previously in an open field are now in the parking lot to a Hardee’s fast food restaurant.

Stay tuned. I will keep everyone posted as to my progress. I’m nearly finished with the research.

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The first review of my biography of Ulric Dahlgren has been published in the new issue of The Civil War News:

Like a Meteor Blazing Brightly: The Short but Controversial Life of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren
By Eric J. Wittenberg
(January 2010 Civil War News)

Illustrated, maps, appendix, endnotes, bibliography, index, 318 pp., 2009. Edinborough Press, P.O. Box 13790, Roseville MN, 55113-2293, $29.95 plus shipping.

Col. Ulric Dahlgren gained lasting notoriety when he was killed leading a cavalry column in a disastrous raid upon Richmond in March 1864. Another column was led by the raid’s commander, Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick.

Papers that the Confederates found on Dahlgren’s body stated that his objective was to liberate Union prisoners in Richmond. Considered a martyr in the North, Dahlgren was despised by the South because the papers also bore instructions to kill Jefferson Davis and his cabinet and to “burn the hateful city.”

The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid has been the subject of numerous books and articles, but until now the only “biography” of Ulric Dahlgren was written by his father, Adm. John Dahlgren. At long last a new perspective is rendered masterfully by Eric Wittenberg, the dean of Eastern Theater cavalry operations.

Like many biographers, Wittenberg provides a sympathetic view of his subject. This viewpoint is furthered by frequent quotations from Dahlgren’s father and from a lengthy eulogy. But objectivity prevails as the author combines these works with a wealth of other primary and secondary sources and his own insightful commentary.

Wittenberg demonstrates that Dahlgren was an ambitious young officer whose indiscretions in his final venture led to his premature death, just shy of his 22nd birthday. Although he was extremely capable and courageous, his career was advanced by extraordinary political connections.

Dahlgren’s brief life included early artillery training by his father, who invented the gun that bears his name. When the Civil War broke out Ulric Dahlgren fulfilled the duties of a staff officer and demonstrated daring and competence in artillery and cavalry duties.

During the battle of Gettysburg he captured valuable documents, and a few days later he lost a leg.

It was the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid, however, that won him immortality, infamy and a rendezvous with death.

In addition to a lively narrative, Wittenberg provides balanced and perceptive analysis of controversial issues such as the motives for the raid and the authenticity of the incriminating papers that Dahlgren carried.

The raid, he notes, had gross oversights that doomed it from the beginning, e.g., the poorly clothed, malnourished and sick Union prisoners were in no condition for a rapid escape, especially in harsh winter weather. And the Dahlgren papers? Wittenberg accepts their authenticity after meticulous research.

Since the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid and the Dahlgren papers are one of the war’s most fascinating mysteries, anyone who fails to read Wittenberg’s endnotes is deprived not only of documentary support but also of expository notes that are as revealing as the main text.

A few discrepancies crept into the narrative, e.g., on p. 145 it states that Dahlgren was the youngest full colonel in either army (the Army of Northern Virginia alone had at least five colonels who were younger); pp. 146-147 sound like two separate dates and presentations for his colonel’s commission; and p. 173 says that J.R. Dykes did not accompany Dahlgren as scout on the raid whereas p. 174 says that he did.

And some of the maps – all of which are excellent – should have been printed on a full page, rather than a half page. Readers also will encounter a section of the book with numerous typographical errors and conflicting spellings, e.g., Mattoponi/Mattapony River. But many of these slips are the editor’s, not the author’s, and do not diminish the book’s overall quality.

Wittenberg’s decision to write a biography of Dahlgren instead of a book on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid was an excellent idea. It provides an understanding of the colonel that heretofore was missing. This first-rate book is welcome for its scholarly research and its captivating reading.

David F. Riggs

David F. Riggs is a museum curator at Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown. He has a BA in history from Lock Haven University and MA in history from Penn State. His publications include Embattled Shrine: Jamestown in the Civil War and Vicksburg Battlefield Monuments.

It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that. I couldn’t be more pleased. And it’s that sort of response that gets me fired up to do more. Thanks, David. And thanks to Jim Schmidt for bringing it to my attention.

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As I have mentioned here previously, my book manuscript on the Battle of Brandy Station is complete and is in the hands of the publisher. A couple of days ago, the publisher advised me that the book will released right around Memorial Day 2010, in time for the anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9. Stay tuned. More details to follow.

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I have finished my Brandy Station manuscript, and submitted it to the publisher over the weekend. I am waiting for my editor to let me know what the projected release date is, but I am told that there’s a reasonably good chance that they will get it out before the end of the year.

The manuscript features a walking/driving tour of the publicly accessible portions of the battlefield, 11 of Steve Stanley’s superb maps (published with the permission of the Civil War Preservation Trust), and about 50 other illustrations. It will also feature a foreword by Jim Lighthizer, the president of the CWPT, that discusses the fight to preserve the battlefield.

Part of my motivation in writing this book was that there be a good, reasonably detailed tactical overview of the battle, with good maps and an order of battle, that folks can purchase at the Graffiti House, which is the Brandy Station Foundation’s visitor center, and which can be used by the BSF as a fundraiser for its preservation efforts.

I’m going to take a month or so off from my Civil War research and writing duties–I am scheduled for a multi-day jury trial on September 1–and then I will begin working on the Yellow Tavern study in earnest once I get through that trial.

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