This post is a month overdue, and I regret that. I’ve been struggling with symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, and I have been trying to keep from typing as much as possible. I actually have been largely avoiding it, and it’s paid off, because the symptoms–quite painful and unpleasant, by the way–have abated some. The trade-off for that is that there just haven’t been any posts since September 30. Please forgive me for that.
Prof. Joseph L. Harsh of George Mason University passed away on September 13. After overcoming modest roots in Hagerstown, Maryland, Joe dedicated his entire life to the study of the 1862 Maryland Campaign, and wrote an absolutely brilliant strategic analysis of the first Confederate invasion of the north. He then followed it up with two excellent companion volumes that are now the cornerstone of most modern analyses of the campaign. As a young graduate student, Joe helped Jim Murfin write his classic study of the Maryland Campaign, The Gleam of Bayonets.
Unfortunately, Joe wasn’t one to take care of himself, and he lived large. Consequently, he left this world too young, leaving his life’s work unfinished. Before a series of strokes robbed him of the ability to do the sort of deep analysis that he was known for, Joe had started on the accompanying analysis of the Union side. That he won’t get to finish it is really too bad, because his Confederate studies of the campaign needed that bookending to be complete.
I have my own debt of gratitude to Joe Harsh. About twelve years ago, Dr. John Hubbell, then the director of the Kent State University Press, and an old friend of Joe’s, invited both of us to give talks at a Civil War symposium that John had organized at Kent State. Prof. Bill Blair of Penn State University was also on the program (my talk there, by the way, was the first time I ever gave a talk on Stuart’s Ride in the Gettysburg Campaign, and we all know where that led). The night before, the four of us went out to dinner and had a perfectly delightful meal that featured sparkling conversation. I was just finishing up the writing of my book on Sheridan’s Trevilian Raid of June 1864, and we started discussing my conclusions about Sheridan’s conduct of the raid.
I explained how disappointed I was with my conclusions about Sheridan, not the least of which was that Sheridan was a very mediocre general, a pathological liar and a really bad human being. We discussed my conclusions at length, and Joe suggested that I put those conclusions in writing, and that got me thinking. By the time I got home the next day after the seminar, I had my book Little Phil mapped out in my head. The book is intentionally controversial and intentionally not objective, and says so, but a lot of people just don’t get that. We stayed in touch for a while after that dinner, I specifically discussed that with Joe, who loved that idea and encouraged it. Then Joe had the first stroke, and dropped off the radar screen. However, but for my knowing Joe Harsh, that book would never have been written, and for that I will aways be grateful. I likewise will always have warm memories of Joe, who impacted my work in a very real way.
We in the Civil War community are fortunate that Joe worked among us, and that he left such an excellent legacy of great work behind. We’re even more fortunate that Joe passed the torch the way Jim Murfin passed the torch to him. Although Joe’s books are great contributions and a brilliant legacy, his greatest legacy is in the form of his protege, my friend, Prof. Tom Clemens, who is carrying on Joe’s work, just as Joe carried on Jim Murfin’s work. Joe will be missed, but I’m glad to know that his legacy is in Tom’s very capable hands. I hope he rests in peace.Scridb filter
Marc Charisse, the editor of the Hanover Evening Sun wrote an interesting editorial for yesterday’s edition of the paper, addressing the many great books on the Battle of Gettysburg that cram his bookshelves. He gave a list of what he feels are ten indispensable books on the campaign, and J.D.’s and my Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg made the list. Here’s the editorial:
Books battling for attention
By MARC CHARISSE
Posted: 06/13/2010 01:00:00 AM EDT
“Of making many books there is no end,” Ecclesiastes tells us, “and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
Every year about this time, a whole new bevy of Gettysburg books appears on the shelves. And every year, I pack my worn artillery haversack full of weighty tomes to take out on the battlefield.
But the weariness comes mostly when I find that despite all those new titles, there is, to quote Ecclesiastes again, “nothing new under the sun.”
Mostly, I find myself packing those tried and true titles that have gotten me through the vicissitudes of Little Round Top, the chaos of the Wheatfield and the perils of Pickett’s Charge. But last November, I finally found the book that could safely guide me across Gettysburg all by itself.
So out of the dozens of Gettysburg books I’ve perused (or at least skimmed) here’s my top-10 titles for understanding the battle, the ones that deserve a second, or even a third careful reading.
1. “The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command,” by Edwin Coddington, was published more than 40 years ago, and still remains to most experts the best single-volume book on Lee’s 1863 invasion. At 600 pages, plus 200 pages of notes, Coddington isn’t light reading, but it’s the beginning of any serious study of the Gettysburg campaign. The old Confederate controversies are all there, but a century after the battle, Coddington returns needed focus to the Union leadership that did, after all, win the battle.
2. “Gettysburg: The Second Day,” by former chief Park Service historian Harry Pfanz is easily the most beautifully written book I’ve read on Gettysburg. Pfanz weaves together the complex operations and the lives and experiences of the men who fought and died on this bloodiest day of the three-day battle. July 2 had the greatest number of opportunities and disasters on both sides, and Pfanz masterfully shows his reader exactly why it was the decisive day of the battle,
3. “Gettysburg Day Two: A Study in Maps.” I picked up my copy of John Imhof’s 1999 collection of tactical maps in a remainder pile in downtown Gettysburg a few years ago for a few dollars. Expect to pay hundreds if you can find one for sale now. No source beats the detailed tactical evolutions depicted on Imhof’s regimental-level maps. And with some showing movements as little as 20 minutes apart, you can finally visually grasp the unfolding of the second day. “Maps of Gettysburg” by Bradley Gottfried is an acceptable substitute, and it also covers the first and third days, though not in the same glorious tactical detail.
4. “Pickett’s Charge” by George Stewart is hard to follow in places if you aren’t already well versed in July 3 troop movements. But as it shifts its focus back and forth between antagonists, it captures the confusion and emotional truth of war. In the end, it delivers a cohesive picture of the great charge and its heroic repulse, but the book’s real power is in the haunting mental images it conjures of men in battle.
5. In “Gettysburg: A Journey in Time,” William Frassanito changed the way we look at the battlefield. His research into early battlefield photography, and discovery of many new images, tell a timeless story in words and pictures. Besides, the many then-and-now pairings are eerily fun to recreate. Frassanito’s two then-and-now collections, and even his massive “Early Photography at Gettysburg” usually manage to get squeezed into my haversack as well.
6. Pfanz’s “Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill” isn’t quite as wonderful as his “Second Day.” But it’s a solid, highly readable study of this neglected, yet unique and fascinating part of the battle.
7. “Plenty of Blame to Go Around,” by Eric J. Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi is the best study of J.E.B. Stuart’s famous ride around the Union army. It includes detailed descriptions of the battles of Hanover and Hunterstown, as well as an excellent driving tour. A great book.
8. “Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg” by John Busey and David Martin is a compendium of the losses at Gettysburg, killed, wounded and captured, regiment by regiment, followed by charts and tables of comparative losses. But in its stark, typewritten pages are ultimately poignant records of the human cost of war.
9. “The Gettysburg Gospel” by Gabor Boritt. For many years, Gary Wills’ “Lincoln at Gettysburg” has been my favorite book on the November address that redefined the battle and the nation. But Boritt’s work is as thoughtful and a better read. A little less erudite, perhaps, but ultimately a richer retelling of the story.
10. “The Complete Gettysburg Guide.” At last, the one book I’d take to Gettysburg if I could only take one book. It’s got everything – walking tours, driving tours, battle maps, monuments and battlefield lore. In a way, Petruzzi’s new book is too good, pointing out all those cool rock carvings, dinosaur fossils and other hidden battlefield stuff some of us had to spend years to find.
If you see me on the battlefield, I’ll let you take a look at my copy. I’ll be easy to spot – the guy dragging that old leather bag stuffed with books up the side of Little Round Top.
Marc Charisse is editor of The Evening Sun. E-mail: email@example.com
I’m honored to be included in such stellar company. Thanks for the kind words about our work, Marc. It’s much appreciated.
Congratulations to J.D. and Steve Stanley for the inclusion of their excellent Complete Gettysburg Guide on the list, meaning that J.D. and Harry Pfanz to appear on the list twice. That’s really an honor, J.D.Scridb filter
I will be signing books on Saturday May 22, 2010, from 1-3 at the Battlefields and Beyond Military Book Shoppe in Gettysburg. If you’re in the area, please come by and say hello!Scridb filter
The web site for selling my books, which can be found here, has been completely re-designed and re-launched. Best of all, the broken shopping cart function has been fixed, and I can now take orders on-line once more. Please check it out. I welcome feedback and suggestions about how to make it better.Scridb filter
A couple of weeks ago, I gave an interview to to Nate Delesline, III of the Culpeper Star-Exponent regarding my new book on the Battle of Brandy Station, which has now run in the paper. I thought I would share it here.
Examining the Civil War’s Battle of Brandy Station
Nate Delesline III
(540) 825-0771 ext. 110
Published: March 28, 2010
Updated: March 28, 2010
Author Eric J. Wittenberg thinks history buffs and casual readers alike will enjoy his newest work.
“The Battle of Brandy Station: North America’s Largest Cavalry Battle” was recently published by Charleston, S.C.-based The History Press. This is Wittenberg’s 16th book.
“I worked on gathering the research material that makes up the part of that book for the better part of 15 years,” he said.
Before dawn on June 9, 1863, Union soldiers broke through the fog near the banks of the Rappahannock River to ambush the Confederates. The confrontation of about 20,000 troops between Union Gen. Alfred Pleasanton and Confederate Gen. JEB Stuart lasted all day and is the largest cavalry battle ever fought on American soil.
“What I’ve tried to do is to give people a good, solid tactical narrative that gives some details but is not overwhelming,” said Wittenberg, an attorney in Columbus, Ohio. “If people are interested in hearing the soldiers’ own stories in their own words, they will find plenty of that in this book.”
A native Philadelphian, Wittenberg is an award-winning Civil War historian. His specialty is cavalry operations, with a particular emphasis on the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps. His works have been chosen for study by history and military book clubs.
Wittenberg, who travels, lectures and regularly leads Civil War battlefield tours, also has authored more than two dozen published articles on the war’s cavalry operations. His work has appeared in Gettysburg Magazine, North & South, Blue & Gray, Hallowed Ground, America’s Civil War, and Civil War Times Illustrated.
Online, Wittenberg runs a blog (Rantings of a Civil War Historian) and moderates a popular Civil War discussion group.
He expressed appreciation to local historian Bud Hall for his assistance in bringing the book to fruition.
“I like to consider myself one of his disciples,” Wittenberg said of Hall’s expertise.
The book also includes maps, illustrations and GPS coordinates to help visitors plan a walking or driving tour of the publicly accessible battlefield areas.
About the book
“The Battle of Brandy Station: North America’s Largest Cavalry Battle” by Eric J. Wittenberg is now available in paperback for $24.99. The book, 272 pages, can be purchased at historypress.net or amazon.com.
More online: Read author Eric Wittenberg’s blog at
The Brandy Station Foundation annual dinner will be held at the Brandy Station Volunteer Fire Department Hall, 19601 Church Road, Brandy Station, Friday, April 9th, beginning at 6 p.m. A wine bar will be featured before dinner at 7 p.m. The cost is $25 and the public is warmly invited. Call Mary Tholand 825-5534 by April 1for reservations. Eric J. Mink will present “Stonewall Jackson in pictures and art.“ Carolyn and Jack Reeder, who have written about the people of Shenandoah National Park, will sign copies of their book about the Civil War letters of William C.H. Reeder.
And there you have it. I had the pleasure of sharing the program with my mentor Bud Hall at Liberty University this past Saturday. More about that tomorrow.Scridb filter
I got my copies of my new book, The Battle of Brandy Station: North America’s Largest Cavalry Battle today, and I have to say that I think that my publisher, The History Press did an excellent job with the book. It’s a handsome volume, and they did everything that I asked them to do.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Clark B. “Bud” Hall, who is my mentor for all things Brandy Station. What I know about the battle, I know because of Bud Hall. Bud’s lifetime of research and intimate knowledge of every bump and every corner of the battlefield has been the source of much of what I know. His research also provided the basis for the excellent maps by master cartographer Steve Stanley that grace the book. Finally, Jim Lighthizer, the president of the CWPT wrote the excellent foreword at the beginning of the book.
In short, I am grateful for the input and assistance of a lot of people, all of whom went a long way to making this book what it is. Enjoy.Scridb filter
I had something pointed out to me that needs to be clarified out here. It’s critical that credit be given when and where it’s due, and that’s the purpose of this e-mail.
As I mentioned the other day, the release of my Brandy Station book is imminent. The book features maps that were done by master cartographer Steve Stanley. The maps are owned by the CWPT, as Steve did them for the CWPT as a work for hire. The CWPT gave me permission to use the maps, provided that they are credited to Steve and to the CWPT. We readily agreed to do so, and that’s how the credit will appear in the book.
What I didn’t realize, but now know, is that those maps were done in conjunction with, and are based upon, the research of my good friend Clark B. “Bud” Hall. I probably should have known that, because in retrospect, it’s obvious. Honestly, I’m not sure why I didn’t realize that, but the fact is that I didn’t. However, nobody had told me that, so they are not credited to Bud in the book, as they should be, and I regret that a great deal. The purpose of this post is to attempt to set the record straight and give credit when and where it’s due.
And that’s wrong. I firmly believe in giving credit when and where it’s due, and it’s due here. First and foremost, Bud has years of research invested in them, and without his expertise, Steve would not have the detail and accuracy that he has in them. Second, the maps were drawn with the intention of appearing in Bud’s forthcoming definitive work on Brandy Station, and I didn’t know that, either. It means that I have unintentionally stolen his thunder. Such was never my intent, and I feel very badly about doing so. I owe a great deal to Bud, who has long been my unflagging supporter and mentor, and the last thing I would EVER want to do is to keep him from getting the credit that he is due. My book would not exist but for him and his work and teaching of me.
It’s also very important to note that I claim absolutely NO credit for the maps. The only input I had was to ask Steve to do one new one that he had never before drawn, which he did. These are Steve’s and Bud’s maps, not mine, and I wanted to be sure that all of you know that. I have asked my publisher, The History Press, to do what it can do to make sure that Bud gets proper credit. Since the book is well into the printing/binding process, it’s too late to add something to the first printing, but we are doing what we can to make sure that proper credit is given where it’s due.
So, when they appear in Bud’s book, you will see them when and where he intended them to be. I am grateful for the opportunity to preview them for you.Scridb filter
For those of you who are interested in my forthcoming book on the Battle of Brandy Station, the publisher informed me today that things are on schedule, that the books are scheduled to ship from the printer on March 17, and that they will be in The History Press’ warehouse on the 19th. For those of you who have been waiting, your patience will be rewarded in just a couple more weeks. Thanks for your patience and support.Scridb filter
Yesterday, I was one of the presenters at the 11th annual Civil War conference at Longwood University. My friend Patrick Schroeder, who is the National Park Service historian at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, puts on this event each year with Prof. David J. Coles of Longwood, who chairs the university’s history department.
The topic was cavalry operations, which is why I was invited. I accepted the invitation because it was Patrick’s event, and I helped him to identify speakers. Old friends Jeff Wert, Clark B. “Bud” Hall, and Scott Patchan were all to present at the conference, and it just seemed like too good a time to pass up. When I announced I was going to participate, fellow bloggers Don Caughey and Craig Swain indicated that they were going to come, as did some other folks that I have known over the years. Mix in a private tour of Appomattox Court House with Patrick, and staying at the spectacular Spring Grove Farm Bed & Breakfast, and I was sold on the thing.
The problem is that late February weather is always unpredictable, and Mother Nature surely didn’t cooperate with this. It’s about 7.5 hours from here to Appomattox. In order to get there in time to take Patrick’s tour, we either had to leave at like 5:00 AM on Friday morning, or leave Thursday night, drive part way, and then find a place to stay so we could get in in plenty of time. That’s what we did. We drove to Beckley, WV, and found a hotel room to spend the night. From the time we hit the Ohio River until we got to Beckley, it snowed hard, and the farther south we got, the harder it was snowing. By the time we got to Beckley, it was nearly a white out. It was snowing as hard as I have ever seen it snow, with 30 mph winds.
We got up early on Friday, loaded up and left, and as we headed first south and then east on I-64, it continued to snow very hard. Some of it was some real white knuckle driving, but it stopped about the time we hit the Virginia state line, and the sun eventually came out. By the time we got to Appomattox, it was still gray and very windy, but it was no longer snowing. It was cold walking around with Patrick, but it was well worth it. For those of you who have never been to Appomattox Court House, it is a pilgrimage well worth making. It’s one of those places where spirits linger, and visiting it is a very moving experience. One of Patrick’s real contributions has been to focus on the fighting that occurred there on April 8-9, 1865, and we saw all of those sites, including the recently acquired 47 acre parcel of the Appomattox Station battlefield, which was a neat thing to see.
The problem is that the weather was so bad that Jeff and Gloria Wert got snowed in and couldn’t make it. That left a gaping hole in the program. When it became obvious that there might be weather problems, Patrick asked me if I might be willing to do a second talk, and I agreed. My scheduled talk was based on my book Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Generalship of Philip H. Sheridan. Jeff was supposed to speak about Jeb Stuart, so I filled in with a talk based on JD’s and my book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg. I spoke during both the morning and afternoon sessions.
The room was filled to overflowing. It looked like a room that seats 200 or so, and EVERY seat was filled, and then some. I had a chance to meet a number of readers of this blog, to meet folks who have helped me along the way like Ben Brockenbrough of Hanover Court House, Virginia, and new friends like Charlie Knight, who has a really good new book on the Battle of New Market coming out, as well as a new blog (which I have added to the blog roll), as well as some old friends like Harold Pearman and Charles Hawks of the Raleigh, NC Civil War Roundtable, who are both avid readers of my work. I also got to meet and make the acquaintance of Ranger Bert Dunkerly, who now works at Appomattox, but is an authority on the Revolutionary War in the Southern Colonies. We all sold lots of books yesterday.
My voice was completely shot by the end of the day, but it was a very good conference, and we had a good time. Susan, Bud Hall, Bud’s companion Kim, Don Caughey, and I all went to dinner together after the close of the conference, and then, after saying goodbye to Don, who had to get back to his hotel near the Richmond airport to catch his early morning flight home to Colorado, we went back to Spring Grove Farm for a nightcap.
After a lovely breakfast, Susan and I headed home and got home just in time to catch the last few minutes of the third period of the gold medal ice hockey game. Congratulations to the Canadians for winning the gold, but the US team has nothing to be ashamed of–they played great hockey, and Ryan Miller was nothing short of spectacular.
On the way home, we made a brief stop to check plumbing in White Sulphur Springs, WV. Right after we got off of I-64, I spotted a historical marker to the Battle of Dry Creek, which is also known as the Battle of White Sulphur Springs, which was completely unfamiliar to me. It was actually a two-day engagement where William Woods Averell–who has long been of great interest to me–commanded the Union troops, and now I’m interested in it. I may end up writing an article about it if I can find enough material. Time will tell. It was a surprise and completely unplanned battlefield visit.
So, it was an excellent weekend, filled with good friends, some wonderful battlefield stomping, good content, new book purchases on both the Civil War and the Revolutionary War, and beautiful surroundings. I’m a lucky guy.Scridb filter