Research and Writing

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.

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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.

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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…..

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

APRIL 20, 2009
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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