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Civil War books and authors

J. D. Petruzzi filmed a joint interview with Tom Carhart as part of the PCN coverage of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg this past July 3. J.D. and Carhart debated the merits of Carhart’s nonsensical theory about the fighting on East Cavalry Field – prior to the interview, J.D. and Carhart agreed that the conversation would remain civil, which it did. Each time that J.D. raised the issue that the evidence did not support his theory, Carhart’s response was to the effect of “I’m a trained soldier, and I know that this is how it was.” At one point, Carhart got so frustrated by J.D.’s insistence that the evidence does not support his theory, he held up his book Lost Triumph to the camera and stated that he was just there to promote his book. After the end of the interview, Carhart took J.D. aside and told him (quoting Carhart according to J.D.) “The reason guys like you and Wittenberg don’t know what you’re talking about is because you never served in the military.”

Ummm….no. While I may not have the formal military training, like Carhart does, I have a license to practice law, and I know and understand evidence, weighing that evidence, and evaluating its credibility. And I know an intellectual fraud when I see one.

I give J.D. a great deal of credit for being civil to this poseur and for not doing a “Jane, you ignorant slut” with him like the old Saturday Night Live bit. I’m not at all persuaded that I would have been able to show the same level of restraint. I would have found it all but impossible not to describe his book as the festering pile of turds that it is. And I would have found it all but impossible not to tell him to his face that he and his book are nothing but an intellectual fraud. Kudos go to J.D. for not doing so. In fact, after viewing that interview, many mutual friends later told J.D. that Carhart looked pathetic, frustrated, nonsensical, and that J.D. must have had infinite patience in dealing with Carhart’s silliness. The interviewer was also obviously increasingly frustrated with Carhart and kept signaling J.D. to move the discussion along as Carhart kept trying to dominate the conversation.

I had a chance to discuss all of this with J.D. at the Williamsport event last weekend, and yesterday, while driving, I had a sudden realization.

The gist of Carhart’s theory is that Stuart’s presence on East Cavalry Field was a coordinated thrust with Pickett’s Charge (one “prong” in a supposed “two “prong” attack), and that it represented a major component of Robert E. Lee’s plan for the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. I’ve already dealt with the bulk of this stupidity in Appendix C to the new edition of Protecting the Flank. But last night, I had an epiphany about it.

Let’s assume, just for the sake of discussion, that Carhart’s theory is correct (we need to first, of course, throw out all of the definitive evidence that refutes Carhart’s theory). If that’s the case, wouldn’t Stuart have committed all of his troopers to an all-out attack on East Cavalry Field? And would he have just called it a day after the repulse of one large-scale attack, as he did that day, if his orders were to make a coordinated attack with Pickett’s Charge? If he truly was to take the offensive, after that charge was repulsed, wouldn’t he have committed his entire command and tried again? The uncontroverted fact is that he did not do so. Instead, Stuart called it a day after the repulse of the charge of Hampton’s and Fitz Lee’s brigades at the climax of the fighting on East Cavalry Field.

The evidence shows that when he was on the offensive, Stuart was quite aggressive and quite persistent. A study of Stuart’s taking the offensive to the Union cavalry during the retreat from Gettysburg and keeping it tied up for days at a time by constantly attacking it demonstrates this beyond a doubt. Just take a good look at the battle of Boonsboro (July 8, 1863) and the battle of Funkstown (July 10, 1863) for examples of what I mean here. By taking the fight to the Union cavalry and being unrelenting about it, Stuart kept two full divisions of cavalry tied up and away from the defensive position being built by the Army of Northern Virginia. In short, Stuart’s aggressiveness bought Lee the time he needed to forge a largely impregnable defensive position along the banks of the Potomac River at Williamsport. Stuart committed his entire force on each occasion, and launched attack after attack in the process.

By contrast, on East Cavalry Field, Stuart tried once, and then with only a portion of his command. The charge by the brigades of Lee and Hampton that was the climax of the fighting on East Cavalry was only by a portion of his command. Stuart watched and saw his command was repulsed by a vastly outnumbered force scraped together from the brigades of McIntosh and Custer and he called it a day after that. If Stuart’s orders were to reach the Union rear at all costs, would he really have just quit after committing only a portion of his force? And wouldn’t Stuart have known the repercussions of withdrawing from further attempts, if his “offensive” action were indeed a vitally important prong of a “two prong” attack coordinated with the infantry assault? If, as Carhart and others have posited, Stuart was so embarrassed by his performance during the week of June 25 – July 2, and was chastised by Robert E. Lee for it, why would he run the risk of further chastisement and disappointment by Lee by not making an all-out attempt to fulfill his “coordinated mission”?

Knowing Stuart’s tenacity and aggressiveness as well as I do, the fact that Stuart did not press the issue indicates the following to me:

1. He knew his command was in wretched shape from its ordeal on the way to Gettysburg and that his mounts probably could not stand more hard fighting.

2. His orders truly were to guard the flank against what he knew was the presence of two full divisions of cavalry—four of the Army of the Potomac’s eight brigades of cavalry—from the attacks of July 2, and were not to execute some grand, coordinated assault as part of the Pickett’s Charge scenario. This protection of the ANV left flank is, of course, all that Robert E. Lee claimed himself as Stuart’s mission on July 3 in his own official report of the campaign. Nothing more, nothing less.

3. The single mounted charge represented Stuart at his opportunistic best—given the opportunity to break through and make some mischief in the Union rear, he would have done so. He was probing to see whether he could get through, and the repulse persuaded him that he should simply be content with guarding the flank effectually, as he did, and as he was ordered to do.

These observations are the only ones that make any sense. Any other interpretation of these events is neither logical nor supported by the evidence.

But, then again, Carhart’s comments to J.D. demonstrate quite plainly that this man is not one to allow the facts to get in the way of a good story.

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I’ve agreed to participate in what promises to be a really fun event. More than a dozen Savas-Beatie authors are going to assemble in Gettysburg from July 28-30 for what Ted Savas is calling the “author conclave.” The idea is that we authors will assemble there for an opportunity to interact with–and lead tours for–our readers. It will be a chance for many of us to get together for the first time as a group. Ted will be there, as well the Savas-Beatie marketing director, Sarah Keeney.

Here is the schedule:

Sunday, July 28: Gettysburg
Morning (time TBD): Lance Herdegen Tour – Gettysburg: July 1, 1863: The failure of Archer’s Attack on McPherson’s Ridge
1:30 – 3:00 pm: Lance Herdegen Tour – Gettysburg: In the Bloody Railroad Cut: The Charge of the 6th Wisconsin
3:30 – 5:00 pm: George Newton Tour – Gettysburg: Confederate cannonade and Union artillery on July 3, 1863
7:00 pm: Informal gathering at Reliance Mine Saloon

Monday, July 29: Gettysburg
8:30 – 10:00 am: J. David Petruzzi Tour – Gettysburg: Buford on Day 1
10:30 am – 12:00 pm: Eric Wittenberg Tour – Gettysburg: Farnsworth’s Charge, July 3, 1863
1:30 – 3:00 pm: David Shultz Tour – Gettysburg: Attack and Defense of the Union Center July Second – Pitzer Woods’ Cause and Effect: The “Little Fight” that Changed it All
3:30 – 5:00 pm: Eric Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi Tour – Gettysburg: East Cavalry Field

Tuesday, July 30: South Mountain, Antietam, and Ball’s Bluff
8:30 – 11:00 am: Tom Clemens Tour – South Mountain: Fox’s Gap, the Struggle for Key Terrain on South Mountain
12:00 – 2:00 pm: Tom Clemens Tour – Antietam: West Woods, Crisis on the Confederate Left
3:30 – 5:00 pm: Jim Morgan Tour – Loudoun County, VA: The Battle of Ball’s Bluff

And the best part of all: IT’S FREE!!!

I will be there Sunday night and on Monday. I won’t be there for the Tuesday tours, as I must get back to work. However, having toured Ball’s Bluff with Jim Morgan and all of the 1862 Maryland Campaign sites with Tom Clemens, I can tell you that you cannot possibly do better than to have either of them lead you on a tour of their respective favorite battlefields. Among the authors expected to be there are J. D. Petruzzi, Dave Shultz, Tom Clemens, Jim Morgan, Lance Herdegen, George Newton, Dave Powell, and others. It’s a great opportunity to meet some of my favorite Civil War authors, to get your books signed, and to hang out with us.

To sign up, click here.

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Ted Savas has a gift for getting his company’s books placed with the History Book Club, the Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club 2. He has a terrific record of success with doing so; of my works, The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and the Civil War’s Final Campaign, and the second edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions: Farnsworth’s Charge, South Cavalry Field, and the Battle of Fairfield, July 3, 1863 were both featured selections.

Ted just informed me that the new edition of Protecting the Flank at Gettysburg: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, July 2 – 3, 1863 has also been chosen by the book clubs. Ted informs me that it will be a featured alternate in the July 2013 catalog offering, which mails on June 2, 2013. I am, of course, very flattered to learn this, and am excited to be featured by the book clubs once more. For those of you who are members of any of the three book clubs, please keep an eye out for it.

Thanks again to Ted for making this happen.

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I have spent a lifetime building a library. I have more than 1500 Civil War books. I have probably another close to 1000 books of other categories, most of which are history books. Many of them are first editions, quite a number of them are signed, there are a fair number of antique books, and a number of unique ones. My library is my prized possession, and is something that I am quite proud of. Some photos of the Civil War portion of my library can be found here. I have added some new books since those were taken last August. The collection grows constantly; I purchased three more over the weekend.

I also have no children, so there is no prodigal son to inherit it. I have no brothers and sisters. None of my nieces or nephews share my interest in military history. In short, there is nobody within the family for me to bequeath my library to when the time comes for me to shuffle off this mortal coil.

That raises an important question. And it’s one that I have discussed with some others who are in the same position, including J. D. Petruzzi, who faces the same issues that I face. We all end up in the same place: we don’t know what to do with our libraries.

I can tell you what I DON’T want to happen to my library: I don’t want to donate it to a larger library where it will be broken up and only some of the volumes would be put on the shelves while others are disposed of. That is the very last thing that I want to happen to the library that I have so lovingly constructed over the course of my lifetime. Whatever happens to it, I want it kept together. I don’t want it pieced and parceled out. That’s completely unacceptable to me and is not an option under any circumstances.

I thought I had come up with the perfect solution. My alma mater, Dickinson College, is the beneficiary of the largesse of the Pohanka family, which endowed the Brian C. Pohanka Chair of Civil War History in Brian’s honor. Knowing that, and in keeping with Brian’s legacy, I thought it would be a perfect solution for me to bequeath my library to the history department at my alma mater, to be used in conjunction with the Civil War classes being taught there. It would be the perfect solution: I could honor Brian, my beloved Dickinson College could directly benefit, and my collection would be kept together as a cohesive unit. I even discussed this possibility with Bud Hall, who faces the same dilemma, and who was interested in paying tribute to Brian also. Perfect solution, right? Wrong. The College has no physical space in the building where the history department is located to house my library, meaning that it could not promise me that it would not end up being parceled and pieced out into the main college library, which, as pointed out above, is not an acceptable solution.

The other idea that I entertained for years was to leave it to the Brandy Station Foundation, but that was before the BSF stopped being a battlefield preservation organization and became the Joe McKinney appeasement society. And, after what the BSF did to Bud Hall, I would rather burn my books than see them end up there. There is less than a zero percent chance now that I would ever donate anything to that organization.

Finally, I could, of course, consign the whole thing to a book vendor and sell it. However, I doubt very much that I would recoup anything close to what I have invested in building it over the course of a lifetime, and it also means that it would be broken up and sold, like so many others. I have a book in my collection that was owned by Prof. Edwin B. Coddington, who wrote the “bible” on the Gettysburg Campaign. Obviously, his library was broken up and sold off piecemeal, and I don’t want to see that happen to mine.

This brings me back full circle: I have no idea what to do with this library of mine when the time comes. And so, I throw it open to you for suggestions. You know what my parameters are from the discussion above. No, I’m not going to donate it to one of you as an individual, so please don’t even suggest it. That will annoy me, and I don’t want to be annoyed. At the same time, I welcome legitimate, good faith suggestions, and promise to seriously consider all of them.

What are the rest of you with large collections of Civil War books planning to do with your libraries when that inevitable time comes?

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30 Mar 2012, by

PCN air date

As I mentioned earlier this week, I went to Pittsburgh on Monday to tape an interview that will air on Pennsylvania Cable Network’s regular book talk program. Today, I learned the air date: Sunday, April 29, 2012, at 9:00 pm. It will also be available by live streaming video on the PCN website at that time. Finally, I am advised that it will also be available as a podcast on the website for one week beginning on the Monday after the initial airing in case anyone wants to download it.

For those of you in Pennsylvania, there is a list of cable stations carrying PCN that can be found here.

I hope some of you will catch it!

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Today, I traveled to Pittsburgh and filmed an interview that will air on Pennsylvania Cable Network soon. PCN has an excellent ongoing series called PA Books, which features books about or impacting Pennsylvania. The Battle of Gettysburg has rightfully gotten a great deal of attention from this series, and I was asked to come and discuss the new edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions. We started out discussing the book, but ended up having a wide-ranging discussion of all things Civil War cavalry.

I don’t yet know when my episode will air, but as soon as I do, I will let you know here.

For those of you who can access PCN but have never watched PA Books, you’ve missed more than 500 interesting episodes about a lot of interesting books. Do yourself a favor and check it out if you have access to PCN on your cable system.

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When the original edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions was published in 1998, it was named the third winner of the Robert E. Lee Civil War Roundtable of Central New Jersey’s Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award as that year’s best new work interpreting the Battle of Gettysburg. The handsome glass award occupies a place of honor in my office, and I treasure that award every day.

Today, I learned that the new edition, which was published by Savas-Beatie last fall, is also in the running for a major award.

Along with my fellow Savas-Beatie authors and friends James A. Morgan, III and Scott Mingus, Sr., my book has been named a finalist for the Army Historical Foundation’s 2011 Distinguished Writing Award in the reprint category. I’m thrilled that the new edition has received this recognition, and even more so that I have done so with two friends whose first editions I published through the late, lamented Ironclad Publishing.

It would, of course, bring things full circle if the new edition also won a major award, just as the first edition did. That would be some neat symmetry indeed.

In any event, congratulations to Scott and Jim and to any other authors whose work has also achieved finalist status.

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Shameless self-promotion, November 16 edition: My NEW book, The Battle of White Sulphur Springs: Averell Fails to Secure West Virginia, is now out! This is the first and only detailed tactical study of this strategically important battle. It features the great maps of Steven Stanley and I am really excited about it. For those who have already ordered, you orders will ship on Saturday. If anyone is interested, please contact me!

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Please forgive a bit of shameless self-promotion.

For those who have been wondering about the status of the new edition of my first book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, three cases of it were waiting for me when I got back from lunch just now.

The new edition features more than 10,000 words of new material in the main text, a 5500 word essay by J.D. Petruzzi and me on where Farnsworth’s Charge occurred, a new map, and a number of new illustrations. I’m really pleased with it.

If anyone is interested in a copy, let me know, and I can hook you up.

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17 Oct 2011, by

RIP, Blake Magner

Today, I received the sad news that my old friend Blake Magner has died. Blake did the maps for nearly half of my books, and we had a great working relationship. Blake was a Vietnam War veteran, and he was a fellow who enjoyed an adult beverage or six or seven. He could be crusty, but he was always fun to be around, and always good for a laugh.

For years, he was the book review editor for Civil War News, and I worked with him in that capacity. I also represented him and his company, CW Historicals, professionally, so I had a lot of dealings with Blake over the years.

You will be missed, old friend. Rest well. And have a beer with Brian Pohanka for me, please.

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Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
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