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Research and Writing

Greetings from my home town of Reading, PA. Susan and I are here visiting my parents for Mother’s Day.

I spent much of last night and a big chunk of today going through the Dahlgren page galleys, which is the last step before the book is sent to the printer. To my surprise, it turned out to be a 300 page book before the index, which hasn’t been prepared yet. When I started on the project, I never dreamed that I would be able to get a 300 page book out of the life of someone who was killed three weeks before his 22nd birthday, but Ully Dahlgren packed so much living into his 21 years and 11 months that it actually wasn’t all that difficult to do.

The galleys look really good; Dan Hoisington has done a good job with it. My only complaint–not a large one–is that I provided him with more than 40 illustrations, and he’s only used about 20 of them. I’d like to see them all in there, but I do understand page constraints and I do understand budgetary constraints.

Anyway, Dan tells me that the book will be out by the end of June, so those of you who’ve been waiting patiently for it, you have only a few more weeks to wait before being rewarded. I will finish with them tomorrow and they will then be on their way back to Dan for final revisions and indexing. After 18 months of waiting, we’re almost to the finish line…..

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30 Apr 2009, by

Choosing Images

Those who are familiar with my work know that I firmly believe that no book can ever have too many maps or too many illustrations. I’ve been busy the past couple of days selecting the images to use in the Brandy Station book. I get a total of 55 of them, and I have to save some of them for the tour portion of the book. There will be 12 maps, which leaves me approximately 37 images of the participants to use in the book. I usually end up with a few more Union images than Confederate simply because Union images are easier to find, but I try to keep the ratio at about 55-45%.

After 15 books, I’ve accumulated a large collection of images of my own. Also, the entire Brady collection of the Library of Congress–more than 2000 images–is available, and in high resolution scan format. Finding high-quality images has become a much easier and much more enjoyable task than it used to be. It used to be something that I absolutely dreaded, largely because I hated spending hours hunched over the scanner. I’ve already got good digital images of a large percentage of the ones that I want to use in the Brandy book, so it will probably only take an hour or two at the most to complete the task of scanning the ones that I need.

This is the fun part of the process for me. I don’t recall ever having the illustrations for one of my books nailed down as early as these are. It’s nice not having to worry about it for a change.

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About two weeks ago, I posted about my Brandy Station project. I mentioned that I had not located a publisher for the project, and I also mentioned that the thing didn’t even have a title yet. I’m pleased to announce that both problems have been resolved.

The History Press, of Charleston, South Carolina, has accepted my proposal, and I am prepared to sign a contract with them to publish the work. My proposal was for a 68,000 word manuscript, with 50 maps and illustrations, and it was accepted as proposed. I am due to submit the manuscript some time around Labor Day, and I think that there’s a reasonable chance that it will be out before the anniversary of the battle in June 2010. I will be putting together the tour in June, and intend to include GPS coordinates with it. My friend and mentor Clark B. “Bud” Hall has the manuscript at the moment, and Bud will work with me to put together the tour. As stated previously, the Civil War Preservation Trust and master cartographer Steve Stanley have given me permission to use Steve’s excellent maps in the book.

The book will be titled The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863: North America’s Largest Cavalry Battle. It is to be part of The History Press’s forthcoming sesquicentennial series on battles of the Civil War, which sounds like it’s going to be an interesting series.

I will keep everyone posted as to my progress. Many thanks to Charlie Knight for the introduction. Charlie returned the favor; I introduced him to Ted Savas, and Ted will be publishing Charlie’s excellent new treatment of the Battle of New Market. Thanks, Charlie.

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Dana B. Shoaf is the editor of both America’s Civil War and Civil War Times, and he faces a big task. First, and foremost, it’s a big challenge to find sufficient quality content to fill 12 issues per year of two different magazines. Second, the two magazines have slightly different focuses.

The biggest challenge he faces is finding material that will appeal to the masses but which maintains some scholarly credibility. Dana recently gave a talk on the subject. From yesterday’s issue of the Hagerstown Herald Mail newspaper:

Historian: Articles should appeal to masses

By ERIN CUNNINGHAM
APRIL 20, 2009
erinc@herald-mail.com
HAGERSTOWN — What do Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Sex Pistols have to do with the Civil War?

Not much, but to Dana Shoaf, editor of the Civil War Times and America’s Civil War magazines, their stories are connected to the history magazine business.

Shoaf told an audience of about 30 Monday at Hagerstown Community College’s Kepler Theater that the brothers who created the Mr. Olympia contest — which Schwarzenegger won seven times — bought the publishing group that owns Civil War Times and other magazines three years ago after selling their weight-lifting magazines for $250 million.

Shoaf also told the crowd gathered Monday for HCC’s annual Kreykenbohm lecture series that the touring philosophy of the Sex Pistols, an English punk rock band that formed in the 1970s, held some lessons for what he said was the need for history magazines to reach a broader audience.

The Sex Pistols began touring in dive bars in the deep South that typically catered to a country-western crowd, instead of their usual punk bars. The Southern audiences often threw bottles at the band.

Shoaf said the band’s philosophy was, “You must go where you need to to convert the masses.”

That is what Shoaf argued for during his talk Monday, titled, “When Worlds Collide: The Problems of Academics and Popular Civil War Magazines.”

“The problem with academic historians is they are not reaching a wide popular audience,” Shoaf said.

He said there is a need for factual, well-researched historical articles that are moderately priced and appeal to the masses.

Shoaf said that in his business, people often are reluctant to read social history because they think it is boring. They want articles about battles, but Shoaf said they like social history if they aren’t aware that’s what they are reading.

He gave an example of an article on the depiction of Abraham Lincoln’s face by the press.

“At first it was unflattering, but over time, as the war went on, the depictions became more realistic as people gained more respect for him,” Shoaf said. “That’s social history.”

Shoaf has taught American history at HCC and Northern Virginia Community College, worked for Time Life as a writer and researcher, and published a number of articles and book reviews about the Civil War, according to Joan Johnson, HCC’s chair of English and Humanities. Shoaf also is a board member of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.

Dana’s point, I think, is well taken. A few years before the magazine group was sold to the Weiders, the prior owner, Primedia, tried out a very well-respected scholarly journal called Columbiad, but nobody bought it, and it quickly died. It was the closest thing to a purely academic journal available generally. North & South magazine tries to cross into both realms, as it offers a mass appeal presentation, but includes more scholarly pieces and includes footnotes with its articles. North & South, however, is very poorly run and only appears sporadically any more. Thus, Dana’s publications are the only ones available regularly, and while he does a great job with them, I do wish that they included footnotes. I think it would lend a little more credibility, but management steadfastly refuses to include them.

This is, of course, nitpicking. Dana does a great job, and I don’t envy him the task of running two mass-market magazines at once. Keep up the good work, Dana.

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I haven’t said anything about this publicly, because I wasn’t sure precisely what I was going to do with it. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that the best way for me to REALLY learn something is to research and write about it. Last year, after leading a tour of the Battles of Kelly’s Ford and Brandy Station for a busload, I realized that I didn’t know Brandy Station quite as well as I wanted. Consequently, I decided to do some more research on Brandy Station and to write about it in more detail than I’ve ever done previously.

My book The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863 contains three chapters, totaling about 21,000 words, on the Battle of Brandy Station. It provided me with a good starting point, so I decided to expand on it and turn it into something more substantial. After several months of work, I’ve now got about 65,000 words on the Battle of Brandy Station. I’ve actually been working on this on and off since September or so, although it hasn’t been much at all recently because of the completion of the baseball project.

The idea is to do something very similar to my book Protecting the Flank: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863. That book contains a 65,000 word tactical treatment, lots of maps and illustrations, and a detailed walking/driving tour. Steve Stanley, the superb master cartographer who does the maps for the Civil War Preservation Trust, has, with the blessing of the CWPT, given me permission to use his excellent maps of the battle in the book.

What this project is NOT intended to be is the definitive work on the Battle of Brandy Station. My friend and mentor Clark “Bud” Hall has been working on that for a long time, and what I’m doing is not intended to compete with what Bud’s doing. If anything, I hope that what I’m doing will whet readers’ whistles for Bud’s project, which is nearing conclusion. Indeed, I intend to steer readers to Bud’s book. I’m hoping to donate at a portion of the royalties/proceeds to the Brandy Station Foundation for a fundraiser, and I expect that it will be sold in the BSF’s little gift shop at the Graffiti House so that the BSF can garner the profits from the sales of the book.

Bud’s reviewing the manuscript for me now, and I have yet to put together the tour. I’m planning on doing that this spring when I go to visit Bud in Virginia. Since it’s been so well received with One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863, I intend to include GPS coordinates in the tour. The problem is that a significant portion of the Brandy Station battlefield remains in private hands and is not generally accessible to the public, which means that I will only be able to include a partial tour.

The thing should be finished in the next couple of months. I need to find a publisher for it. It would be a natural for Ironclad Publishing’s Discovering Civil War America Series, but we’re already backed up by four books, and with the publishing business being the way it is at the moment, it’s going to be quite a while before we could publish it. I also don’t want to use Ironclad as my own vanity press. Consequently, I am looking for a publisher for this work, and I welcome any suggestions that any of you care to make. Please feel free to pass on any suggestions.

In the meantime, I will keep everyone posted as to the progress of the completion of the project and the hunt for a publisher.

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2 Apr 2009, by

It’s Done!

As Michael has pointed out, the working draft of the baseball book is finished. We now have a complete draft finished. It’s 385 pages and almost 190,000 words in length. We had a great time putting it together, and now it’s time to find a publisher for it, which we’re getting ready to begin doing. I’m just tickled that it’s finally done.

And it also means that I can get back to my normal routine and resume regular posting about the Civil War.

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The primary reason for the lack of posts the past couple of weeks has been my being tied up finishing up my portion of the baseball project. I’ve been working hard at finishing up the last six team profiles, and now have four of those last six finished. I’ve got two to go, and then the manuscript is finished. I have yet to tackle the 1991 Cleveland Indians and the 2003 Detroit Tigers, who lost 119 games and then went to the World Series three years later.

Along the way, I’ve discovered some nifty trivia that made its way into the book. Try this one on for size. On August 18, 1960, right handed pitcher Lew Burdette, who was a very effective major league pitcher for 22 years and who won more than 200 games in the majors, threw a no-hitter against the Phillies, 1-0. Burdette, then pitching for the Milwaukee Braves, scored the game’s only run. He won 19 games that season. Twenty-eight days later, on September 16, Braves ace Warren Spahn, probably the greatest left handed pitcher to ever toe the rubber, no-hit the Phillies again, winning 4-0 with 15 strikeouts. It was Spahn’s 20th win of the season.

Thus, two different Milwaukee Braves pitchers twirled no-hitters against the Phillies 28 days apart. It had never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since. I found this nifty little tidbit last week, while doing some digging for material on the Boston Braves.

Anyway, this sort of thing is what’s been keeping me occupied. As soon as I finish up the Indians and the Tigers, the manuscript is complete. At last. I expect to finish up this week for sure.

Once it’s done, I should resume more regular posting. In the meantime, please hang in there with me.

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J.D. has an excellent post on his blog today titled “The Forest From the Trees”, which does the best job of explaining why we’re doing what we’re doing with our trilogy on the Gettysburg Campaign I’ve yet seen, my own words included. I commend it to you.

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Since J. D. let the cat out of the bag by describing our next book on the Gettysburg Discussion Group today, I might as well announce it here.

We’ve decided to push back the Monocacy study a bit in order to complete our trilogy on the Gettysburg Campaign. As one reviewer of One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 properly noted, the Gettysburg Campaign really didn’t end until the armies returned to the Rappahannock River and the positions that they occupied before Lee’s advance in June 1863. We addressed the period from July 14-31, 1863 in a very cursory and very brief overview in the epilogue to One Continuous Fight.

We have decided to go ahead and do a book-length sequel to One Continuous Fight that covers this period in detail for the first time. Actions covered will include David M. Gregg’s cavalry fight at Harpers Ferry on July 15, the cavalry fight at Manassas Gap/Wapping Heights on July 18, 1863, the large-scale infantry engagement at Wapping Heights between three corps of the Army of the Potomac’s foot soldiers and the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, the pursuit through the Loudoun Valley, following the same route as that used by George B. McClellan in November 1862, and coverage of the August 1 cavalry fight at Brandy Station. So far as I can tell, none of these actions have ever enjoyed any sort of a detailed treatment. Hence, it appears that we’re going to be plowing new ground again here.

Our purpose in doing this book is to disprove, for once and for all, the myth that George G. Meade was passive and lacked vigor in his pursuit of Lee. In fact, once Lee’s army got across the Potomac, Meade became hyper-aggressive, so much so that Halleck eventually had to order Meade NOT to attack and to hold his position once the draw-down of force to put down the New York draft riots began. We will show, once and for all, that Meade’s pursuit was aggressive but yet prudent, and that Lee’s masterful handling of the retreat of his army is really the factor that prevented Meade from bringing him to bay in a decisive battle on ground of Meade’s choosing.

The working title is For Want of a Nail: The Retreat and Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 15-August 1, 1863, and this book, like the rest of the trilogy, will be published by Savas Beatie. Phil Laino (who does the excellent maps that appear in Gettysburg Magazine) will be doing our maps this time, and we will again feature a driving tour with GPS coordinates. Once it’s complete, we will then tackle the book on Early’s 1864 raid on Washington, D.C.

We will keep you posted as to progress.

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This evening, I have posted a new article here on the site. The article deals with one of my favorite figures of the American Civil War, David Frakes Day, Medal of Honor winner, fearless scout, and scoundrel. I first discovered Day while researching and writing my book The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and the Civil War’s Last Campaign, and became fascinated by his story. This article was originally written for publication, but I’ve instead decided to post it here. Enjoy.

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