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Civil War books and authors

12 Oct 2011, by

Cool news!

For those of you who have been waiting for the new edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions yesterday. The History Book Club and the Military Book Club have made a deal with Savas-Beatie to issue a special hardcover edition of the book for their members. That process has slowed up the printing process for the softcover edition, but I’m excited about it. This book has never had a hardcover version, nor did I ever expect that it would, so I am very excited about that.

The downside is that it will only be available to book club members. I will get a couple of personal copies, but I do NOT expect to have any to sell. If you want the hardcover edition, you will have to join the book club and purchase it that way. But I figured that you should know that that option will be available.

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5 Oct 2011, by

Upcoming events

Since I’ve been asked to report these things more often, I will try to remember to do so. Details, such as time and place, for each event are available by clicking on the link provided for each program.

Later this month, I have two Civil War Roundtable appearances, which are my last two of the year. On Wednesday, October 19, 2011, I will be presenting to the Civil War Forum of Metropolitan New York. The topic for that talk is Ulric Dahlgren’s short but controversial life.

The next night, October 20, I will be speaking to the Civil War Roundtable of Fairfield County, Connecticut, which meets at the Stamford Historical Society. The topic there will be an old favorite, Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg.

On November 16, I will be doing a presentation to the Ross County Historical Society in Chillicothe, Ohio. That talk will be titled “The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command.”

I hope to see some of you at one or more of these programs!

By the way, this is the 1,200th post that I’ve done since this blog began in September 2005. As always, I remain grateful for your continued support and for taking the time to visit my little corner of the Internet.

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15 Sep 2011, by

A eulogy

On Sunday, September 18, 2011–three days from today–the final Borders stores will close. Most of them have already shuttered up and gone dark. The last two Michigan stores close today. That’s especially sad, as Borders was born and based in Ann Arbor. The last store in Las Vegas also closes today. The last Chicago store closed yesterday, and the liquidator donated 8000 books to the Chicago schools. For those of us who love books, this is nothing but sad news.

I spent many an hour in our local Borders stores in the 20+ years that the company conducted business in Columbus, and God only knows how much money. I enjoyed the ambiance of the stores: LOTS of books on lots of subjects, nice, comfortable chairs to sit and browse the books, nice bistros to get a snack or something to drink. The stores always had excellent inventories and selections of Civil War books, which I always very much appreciated, usually including at least one of my titles and usually more. I could–and did–spend many hours in Borders, and I have felt a persistent sense of loss since our local stores closed several months ago during the first major round of store closures.

Sadly, the story of the failure of Borders may never be told. It is a sad tale of bad business decisions, a terrible choice of CEO in hiring someone who knew nothing about the bookselling business, really unfavorable leases (the flagship Chicago store had monthly rent of $1,000,000 per month–you have to sell a LOT of books to meet that nut), staying in the CD business too long when the music business has changed dramatically due to the popularity of devices like the iPod, poor technology–whomever thought that it was a smart move to partner with Amazon, Borders’ primary competitor, for online sales wasn’t terribly bright, and whomever missed the boat on developing and marketing an e-reader to compete with the Nook and the Kindle was just plain stupid. Finally, Borders was a victim of the changing paradigm of the book publishing business, which is filled with uncertainty as to what the future holds. Thus, the Borders saga is a cautionary tale, both of how NOT to run a business, but also of how to run a business into the ground, and its failure was probably inevitable. There are many lessons to be learned from its failure. However, the inevitable failure of Borders is nevertheless a sad thing for anyone who loves books.

Simon & Schuster, which was Borders’ biggest creditor and which recently negotiated a more favorable deal with Barnes & Noble, put the kaibosh on a potential sale of the corpse of Borders to the Book-of-the-Month Club, which was going to dip a toe into the water of brick and mortal retail sales. It also nixed the sale of more than 30 of the Borders leases to Books-a-Million in order to cozy up to Barnes & Noble.

And so, we’re left with Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million. I detest Barnes & Noble. The stores carry only a tiny percentage of the incredible inventory that Borders maintained and it’s a quintessential big box retailer that cares nothing about the customers. The last time that I was in the local B & N superstore, it had about 30 Civil War titles in its inventory–that’s it. Even though I am a local author who lives about five miles from the store, they rarely ever have any of my stuff, even in the local interest section. It really makes me angry, if the truth be told. Books-a-Million does not maintain a presence in Central Ohio, so our only option is B&N, meaning that it looks like I will be doing the overwhelming majority of my future book buying through Amazon.

The only good thing that may come out of the death of Borders is a rebirth for the small, independent bookseller, as this article points out. No matter how popular electronic gadgets like the Nook or Kindle may become, old school guys like me will always prefer to hold the real thing. I just prefer the look and smell and feel of a real book, and I will always prefer them to my Nook. The failure of big box Borders opens the door for the independent booksellers to cater to the likes of me, and I hope that they do. I would dearly love to have an alternative to Barnes & Noble in Columbus, and I will continue to buy books from the independent booksellers (such as the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop, which is a sponsor of this blog).

Fare thee well, Borders. You will be missed.

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….Pete, because I want him to have something good to read while deployed in Uganda.

Runners up are Bob Hamann, Sarah Adler, Rae-Ann McDonald, Dennis, Paul LaCroix, and Joe Fafara. Runners up will get a free copy of my other Gettysburg volume, Protecting the Flank: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863.

All winners and runners up should contact me using the “Contact me” button. I will need the address you want the book sent to. Thanks for playing!

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22 Aug 2011, by

A contest

In the course of finishing the library project yesterday, I found something that I didn’t know that I had. My first book, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions, was published in 1998. It won the Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award as the best new work interpreting the Battle of Gettysburg of 1998. The book has been out of print for four or five years now, and copies of the original edition have become quite rare. New copies of it sell for over $100, which amazes me. It’s a softcover book of about 140 pages, and it retailed for $12.95.

I have a new edition of the book coming out in just a few weeks. The new edition is being indexed as I write this. It’s fully revised, with a lot of new material being added. I’m excited about the new edition, but the original occupies a special place in my heart as my first book.

When I finished up the library project last night, I found a brand new copy of the 1998 edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions that I didn’t know that I had. It’s been years since I had one to sell, simply because it’s long out of print. It’s too close to the release date of the new edition, so I’m not going to try to sell it.

Instead, I’ve decided that I will give it away to one of you. We’re going to have a little contest. If you want it, leave me a comment that explains the reasons why you should be the one to get it. I will select the winner two weeks from today, and will announce the winner here on this blog. Have at it, and have fun!

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For a couple of years now, I’ve been trying to get a handle on my library. It needed to be completely rearranged, and I needed a good place to put oversized books. Susan came up with a brilliant idea for how to accommodate that need. We got rid of the huge particle board computer desk, and replaced it with the Elfa shelving system from The Container Store. There are now three shelves of oversized books above the new desk, and I have a new desk and place for our old iMac computer.

So, here’s some library porn for you. Every book that you see in these photos is a book on the American Civil War.

This first image
is the corner, where two walls of built-in floor to ceiling bookcases come together. I guess you could call that ground zero of the library.

In this photo, you can see new desk with the three shelves of oversized books above it.

And, finally, this is the right wall. It’s longer than the other wall and has more available space.

Fortunately, after the reorganization, I have about a bookcase and a half left of empty space, so that there is still room left to grow.

I didn’t photograph them, but there are also three bookcases of other history books in the room, ranging from basic military history to presidential biographies, and pretty much everything in between. I also have a bookcase of nothing but books about the Revolutionary War in our bedroom next to my nightstand. And then there are Susan’s books…..

We like books.

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19 Aug 2011, by

Frustration

Like every author who has had more than one work published, I have favorites among my various books. There are just certain projects for which I have a certain fondness, for whatever reason. In the case of Trevilian Station, it was my first campaign study, and the book was the first detailed tactical treatment of an important campaign. It was groundbreaking work, and that book was long been one of my favorites as a result.

Another of my favorites is also the source of a great deal of frustration for me. In 2003, my book The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863 was published by Brassey’s. To my displeasure, Brassey’s allowed it to go out of print, and when they refused to print a new edition of it, the rights to the book reverted to me. This is one of my very favorites of my work, as it covers a range of material never covered in real depth before, since, or anywhere else. There are several cavalry actions detailed in this volume that had never received a detailed treatment previously, and I’ve long been proud of it.

The problem is that I cannot find a publisher that would be willing to take a shot with it and bring it back into print. Hence, I face a variety of options:

1. Self-publish it as a print-on-demand book as originally published.

2. Self-publish it as a print-on-demand book as a completely revised edition with new maps.

3. Self-publish in Kindle/Nook format only (thanks to old friend John Geracimos for that suggestion).

4. Continue to look for a new publisher for it.

There are pluses and minuses to each. POD is fine, but I’ve always had questions about the quality of the books so published. I don’t have the cash or warehouse space at the moment to print a large quantity of them in order to have inventory on hand, so that’s not really an option for me. Publishers are hesitant to bring out a new edition of something that has already been published, and Ted Savas, of Savas-Beatie, who is already working on new editions of two of my prior books, has already passed on this one because he doesn’t think there’s a good market for a new edition.

It pains me to see this book out of print. I would really like to see it back in print, but I have limited options. What do you–my readers–think I should do? Please give me your opinions, as I value them. Thank you.

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My friend and co-author J. D. Petruzzi and master cartographer Steve Stanley (who is doing the maps for my White Sulphur Springs book) have come out with an extremely useful little volume titled The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook: Facts, Photos, and Artwork for Readers of All Ages, June 9 – July 14, 1863 that was just published by Savas-Beatie. I can’t say enough good things about this book.

A couple of years ago, J.D. and Steve brought out their extraordinary guidebook to the Gettysburg battlefield that covers the battle in great detail and which also covers some really offbeat and off the beaten path aspects of the battle. However, some things had to be left out in the interest of space, and the new volume serves as a perfect companion to the Guide.

The new volume–softcover and small, for easy use on the battlefield–is precisely what the title suggests. It’s a very useful tool for anyone interested in visiting the battlefield. It includes lots of useful and interesting tidbits, such as a listing of all 64 winners of the Medal of Honor for the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as a brief description of why each individual was awarded the Medal. It discusses weather conditions during the battle. It includes lots of fascinating factoids about the battle, and it includes a series of quotes by participants that give the reader something to deeply ponder while on the battlefield. There is also a gallery of photos and capsule biographies of some of the more important but less known personalities of the battle, such as Lt. Col. Benjamin F. Carter of the 4th Texas Infantry, who was mortally wounded during the fighting for Little Round Top on July 2, 1863 and was then buried in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. The last part of the book is a reading list for those interested in further reading and learning about the events of July 1-3, 1863.

The most important portions of the book are the extremely detailed order of battle and the descriptions of the three days of the battle itself. Written so that even a Civil War novice will understand them, these chapters provide an excellent overview of the battle. They, alone, are worth the purchase price.

The book is done in full color. There are lots of excellent photographs by Steve Stanley, and Steve’s maps are printed in full color. There is no cartographer in the business better or more talented than Steve Stanley, and his maps are presented here in their glory. The layout of the book is handsome and Savas-Beatie spared no expense in using Baxter paper to publish this volume. At only $18.95, this book is a real bargain.

I highly recommend The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook for anyone with an interest in the Gettysburg Campaign. Everyone–from novice to expert–will learn something new here. It should be required reading.

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Last fall, I was asked to be a talking head in a documentary film on the July 6, 1863 Battle of Hagerstown, a critical moment during the retreat from Gettysburg. Whomever controlled Hagerstown controlled the direct route to Williamsport, Maryland and the Potomac River crossings needed by Robert E. Lee. In a nasty fight, the Confederates defeated Judson Kilpatrick, and Ulric Dahlgren suffered the wound that cost him a leg in the process.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

Valor in the Streets: The Battle of Hagerstown from City of Hagerstown, MD on Vimeo.

The film is about to premiere on the anniversary of the battle. Here’s the press release:

CITY OF HAGERSTOWN AND CVB INVITES YOU TO PREMIERE OF NEW DOCUMENTARY
July 6: New Documentary to Premiere About Battle of Hagerstown

(Hagerstown, MD) — On July 6, the City of Hagerstown and the Hagerstown-Washington County CVB will host a premiere showing of the newly completed documentary about the July 6, 1863 cavalry battle that took place on the streets of downtown Hagerstown.

Entitled “Valor in the Streets: The Battle of Hagerstown”, the premiere will take place at 7:00 pm at the Bridge of Life Center, 14 South Potomac Street.

Hosted by national television news personality Kelly Wright, the 30-minute documentary uses staged footage, historic photos and art, computer mapping and interviews with noted historians to relate the human interest stories that occurred during one of the largest urban cavalry battles of the Civil War, emphasizing the interaction between the soldiers of both sides and the local residents.

Tickets are $5 each and can be reserved by contacting the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 301-791-3246 extension 10, in person at the Visitor Center (located just off Public Square), or by email at welcomecenter@marylandmemories.com.

If not sold out in advance, tickets will be available at the door. The premiere showing is expected to sell out.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau is sponsoring the premiere venue and the reception afterwards at the Bridge of Life Center.

This project was made possible through grants from the Hagerstown Trust Division of The Columbia Bank, the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the W.A. Hazel Construction Company.

The documentary was produced by Steven R. Bockmiller.

Washington County is home to five National Parks, eight State Parks, more than thirty museums, a minor league baseball team, a world-class professional symphony orchestra, more than twenty-one historic stone arch bridges, and is ranked first in Maryland for retail opportunities. For more information, see: www.marylandmemories.com.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization whose mission is to help attract visitors to Hagerstown and Washington County. The CVB helps to create vibrant growth for the local economy by promoting, developing, and expanding the local visitor industry. Washington County is part of the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area (www.heartofthecivilwar.org), and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area (http://hallowedground.org). Washington County is also part of the Quad-State Tourism Coalition, a four-state tourism group along I-81. For more information, see: www.quadstate81.com. The Hagerstown-Washington County CVB was recently awarded the Maryland Cultural Heritage Tourism Award by Governor Martin O’Malley.

Susan and I will be attending the premiere, and I will be selling books afterward. Tickets are available by e-mailing welcomecenter@marylandmemories.com, or by telephone, 301-791-3246, x 10. I hope to see some of you there!

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9 Jan 2011, by

An experiment

After much debate, and with some very valuable information provided by old friend Dave Powell, I took the plunge and bought a Barnes & Noble Nook yesterday. I got the black and white version largely because the color version is difficult to read in bright sunlight, and I anticipate taking the thing out into the field with me from time to time. The black and white version does quite nicely in bright sunlight. The color version also costs about $70 more than the one I bought.

The debate was whether to purchase the Nook or the Amazon Kindle. My plan was to use it for the public domain books that I download from sites like Google Book Search and Internet Archive. That way, I don’t have to spend a lot of time and money printing stuff out. Instead, I can simply access what I need on the Nook and have it there with me, either in the field, or when I’m writing. In theory, it will reduce the clutter in my work area, as I won’t need the xerox copies or the actual books surrounding me while I’m writing. It will save money on toner and paper, and will also save space, as I won’t need bookshelf space for books or three-ring binders filled with print-outs. That’s the theory, anyway.

I may also use the thing for the occasional book to read on an airplane or something like that, although I really prefer a real book in those circumstances. The jury’s still out on that one.

Dave Powell is an old friend and a Civil War historian whom I really respect. I had been debating doing this for quite a while, and finally sent Dave an e-mail the other day to ask him about this, as I seemed to remember that he had a device that he uses for precisely the same purpose as what I had in mind. Dave wrote back promptly, and his input pushed me to choose the Nook over the Kindle. I will explain why.

Both devices are very similar. Both use the e-Ink technology, so the displays are virtually identical. Both have built-in Wifi, and both have built-in free 3G wireless for downloading stuff and Internet browsing. The biggest issue is with capacity. The Kindle has decent capacity, but the problem is that the capacity cannot be expanded. The Nook has a micro-SD slot, and the device’s capacity can be increased by adding a micro-SD card. It’s up to the user to decide on the size of the card the user wishes to employ.

The reason why this is important is that things downloaded in the EPUB format are typically small files, which is why Kindle advertises it can hold like 3500 books on the device. However, EPUB has a lot of issues, many of which are poor translation into the digital format, typos, etc. It’s not entirely reliable, and you can get some funky stuff. Consequently, I prefer to use PDF’s. They’re a much more accurate translation of the original book, but they’re infinitely larger files. Because of that, the ability to expand capacity with a micro-SD card is really appealing. I put an 8GB micro-SD card into the Nook today, and that greatly expanded the device’s capacity.

The downside is that the image is a bit small (both the Kindle and the Nook have screens that are six inches on the diagonal) and the PDF print comes out a bit small. However, the reading glasses that are rarely far from my reach should alleviate that problem.

The other downside is that the Kindle came first, and the Kindle format is proprietary. Consequently, a Kindle book will not work on the Nook, and vice versa. However, because the Kindle came first, a lot of publishers only do Kindle versions and not Nook versions. Fortunately, one of my publishers, Savas-Beatie, does both Nook and Kindle versions, but that’s not always the case. That’s somewhat mitigated by the fact that my primary intent for the device is to use it for stuff downloaded in PDF format anyway. However, for some people, it is definitely a consideration.

In the end, I bought the Nook due to the expandability of capacity. We also bought Susan a Kindle at the same time, so it will be interesting to compare them and to see how it plays out as both get used. And, at under $200, if a better technology comes along that is also affordable, it will be easy enough to replace the thing with the latest and greatest toy without feeling like I’m making a big sacrifice.

I will keep you posted as to how the great experiment plays out as I proceed with my work. If anyone has a story or experience with either device to share, please feel free to weigh in.

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