Research and Writing

Regular reader Art Fox left me this comment:

Hi Eric,

I read your blog almost daily. Am amazed at how you can manage so many book projects, magazine articles, appearances, in addition to a law practice. I am a semi-retired university professor, and have had only two books published in the past 6 years: Our Honored Dead Allegheny Co.PA in the American Civil War (2008,2009), and Pittsburgh During the American Civil War, 1860-1865 (2002,2004,2009), and will probably be working on my present project – They Served with Honor, Allegheny county Soldiers at The Battle of Gettysburg, a 150 Anniversary Commemoration – for the next 3 years. My question to you brother – Is how do you do it, what is your secret – Congratulations in what you have added to Civil War History.

Art fox, Pittsburgh

I thought I would answer his question.

Art, first, let me say thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them very much.

How do I do what I do? Hmmmm….good question. Some background will give you some insight.

First, and foremost, while I am good at my day job, I often do not find it rewarding and often find myself asking what the hell I was thinking getting into the legal business in the first place. The practice of law can be very frustrating and very stressful, and I welcome having an escape for a couple of hours each night when I am in serious writing mode. Being able to lose myself in events that happened 140+ years ago is a great release for me.

Second, I haven’t got children to chase after. While my friends are going hither and yon hauling kids to activities–time consuming and often exhausting–I don’t have that particular encumbrance. My kids have four legs, and if I play with them for 15-20 minutes, they’re happy and good for the evening. That means I have plenty of time to write and not a lot in the way of distractions.

I also have a very short attention span. I find it nearly impossible to just sit and do nothing, and I likewise find it nearly impossible to just sit and watch TV. I need to have something to do pretty much all the time (the truth is that I think I have a pretty bad case of ADD, but they didn’t really know what it was when I was a kid in school), and it usually needs to be something that keeps my mind active, or else I go totally bonkers. What better way than writing?

My short attention span also means that I have to finish a project and move on. That stems, in part, from how I have to write at work. I write all day, every day, at work. Consequently, I’ve learned to be efficient in my writing. I’ve never been one to labor over a single sentence for hours on end. I would rather get it down on paper and then work on it.

Researching and writing is how I really learn something. If I want to really learn about something, I research it and I write about it; doing so forces me to really learn it. That’s why nearly all of my projects start out as things that interest me; if others find them interesting, all the better, but most of what I write about is to satisfy my own curiosity about things.

I am also very fortunate indeed to have a spouse who not only understands this compulsion of mine, but who supports it wholeheartedly. There is simply no way that I could get done what I get done without Susan’s unflinching support. She understands and appreciates my compulsive need to write, and she supports it. She understands the expenditures involved in doing the research, and she supports them. She understands the investment of time and the level of intensity that’s involved with my writing, and she not only supports it, there are times when she reminds me that I’m not being as productive as I should be. Bottom line: without Susan’s unwavering support, none of this would be possible. She just wishes that the venture was more profitable and that we got a better return on the financial investment.

Finally, I have a great deal of inflexible personal discipline. When I am in writing mode, I write at least 2 hours per night, at least three nights per week. If I do that, the results just flow. That’s part of my compulsion to get things finished and then to move on to the next project.

Some might think I’m nuts. Perhaps I am. But this work is how I relax after a long day at the office, and being able to immerse myself in events of the past is how I keep whatever semblance of sanity that remains….

Thanks again for writing, Art. I hope this little stream-of-consciousness rambling of mine has given you the insight you were looking for.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

After the favorable response that my post on Henry Washington Sawyer of last week, I realized that this story was so compelling that I had to tell in full detail. Consequently, I have proposed to Dana Shoaf, the editor of both America’s Civil War and Civil War Times, an article that tells the story in detail. I spent most of the afternoon working on it today, and think that the full version is a very compelling story.

I will keep you posted as to progress. Hopefully, Dana will like it and will want to run it in one of the two magazines.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

19 Jul 2009, by

New Project

I just signed a contract with The History Press for a second installment its Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. The first, of course, is my Brandy Station project, which is just about finished. The manuscript is pretty much done, subject to some feedback from old friend Clark B. “Bud” Hall. I had a nearly finished manuscript that was looking for a publisher when I signed that contract.

This project, however, is completely different. This one starts from scratch, and will be titled The Battle of Yellow Tavern: Jeb Stuart’s Last Battle, and will be a study of Phil Sheridan’s May 1864 raid on Richmond, with particular focus on the May 11, 1864 Battle of Yellow Tavern, where Jeb Stuart received his mortal wound. It will cover the raid, including Beaver Dam Station, Yellow Tavern, and the fight at Meadow Bridges on May 12. It will also address Stuart’s death, funeral, and burial at Richmond’s famous Hollywood Cemetery, and will include a driving tour.

The problem with Yellow Tavern is that the entire battlefield has been obliterated. An Interstate highway cuts right through the middle of battlefield, and that which was not destroyed by the freeway is now either a commercial development or a couple of different residential subdivisions. The monument to Stuart’s wounding is stuck between houses and looks like it’s actually in someone’s yard (which it is, to be honest). The tavern itself is long gone. The only part of the original battlefield that remains intact is the intersection of the Mountain and Telegraph Roads. It’s a testament to what happens when no foresight at all is exercised and a battlefield is permitted to be obliterated. Perhaps it can provide a lesson to all of us of the importance of foresight with respect to battlefield preservation.

I have already undertaken gathering primary source material, and will keep you all posted as to the progress of the project as my research proceeds. This is another of those projects that I have always wanted to tackle, so this is another of those labors of love for me.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

Dan Hoisington, my publisher for the Dahlgren bio informed me today that the book continues to be delayed, and apparently will be for another week. The bindery screwed up and apparently they had to be re-done. The book is now significantly late, thanks to the bindery screw up. Dan says he believes it will finally ship next week. Let’s hope so. I’m getting tired of waiting for it…..

Scridb filter

Continue reading

For those of you who read Gettysburg Magazine, the new issue is out. Issue 41–hard to believe it’s been more than 20 years since I bought issue 1 in Gettysburg–contains the usual interesting stuff. The first article is one of mine. It’s title “A Charge of Conspicuous Gallantry: The Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry at the Battle of Brandy Station”. The title is pretty self-explanatory, and represents one of the few instances where the magazine has run a piece dedicated to the Battle of Brandy Station as the opening engagement of the Gettysburg Campaign rather than the main battle in Pennsylania. Thanks to publisher Andy Turner for doing a fine job with the article.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

16 Jun 2009, by

Dahlgren Update

On Monday, Dan Hoisington, the publisher at Edinborough Press, the publisher of my Ulric Dahlgren bio, informed me that he had approved the blue lines for the book and had returned them. He indicated that the printer was running about two weeks for printing and binding, so it would appear that the book is on track for the end of June release date that I’ve been promising. As this book was one of my labor of love projects, I am particularly eager to see the final product in print.

Stay tuned.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

Dan Hoisington, the owner of Edinborough Publishing, told me tonight that my biography of Ulric Dahlgren goes to the printer tomorrow. That marks the culmination of six long years of work on that project, and it’s the culmination of a labor of love. I can’t wait to see the book in print.

It’s due out by the end of June. I will keep everyone posted as to progress, and it will shortly be available for pre-order on my other web site.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

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…..

Scridb filter

Continue reading

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.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

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.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress

Warning: substr() expects parameter 3 to be long, string given in /home/netscrib/public_html/civilwarcavalry/wp-content/themes/wittenberg/footer.php on line 54