September, 2005

29 Sep 2005, by

Gettysburg and Me

“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

So said Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain years after the end of the Civil War. This passage, which has, unfortunately, become somewhat cliched over the years, still gives me chills when I read it. Although Chamberlain said these words on the battlefield at Gettysburg, they could just as easily apply to any battlefield of the Civil War. However, they are most closely associated with Gettysburg, and they mean the most to me when I think about Gettysburg. They certainly are true. There is no doubt that the shadow of a mighty presence has wrapped me in its bosom and that the power of its vision has passed into my soul. Perhaps that’s why I get chills when I read these words. I don’t know. I do know this–I have read few writers with a greater gift for the English language than Chamberlain had. I wish I could write like that.

I find myself drawn to Gettysburg just as Chamberlain did. Several times per year, I have to visit there in order to keep grounded and feel like I’ve gotten my fix. I find that I need to spend time on that ground several times per year, even though I have walked almost every inch of that battlefield at some point or another. I’ve walked some pieces of it dozens of times, but for some reason, I never get enough of it. For me, it’s the obscure places that draw me most. There are few spots on that battlefield that move me more, or where I love to just sit and contemplate the meaning of life more than the spot on the front slope of Big Round Top where Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth met his fate on July 3, 1863. Or Barlow’s Knoll, where an unnecessary disaster befell the Eleventh Corps on the first day of the battle. Or the spot where the 1st Minnesota made its magnificent charge into Lang’s Floridians on the second day. Or the spot where the Michigan Cavalry Brigade monument stands–East Cavalry Field is a quiet and contemplative spot where I rarely have to share the ground with anyone else. Or the spot on Stratton Street where the brave men of Coster’s brigade got chopped to bits during the fight for the Brickyard on July 1. Or the forlorn monument to the 5th U. S. Cavalry, overgrown, neglected, and almost never visited. Or the first shot marker, where this great conflagration began. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Unless I go to Gettysburg several times per year and spend time on these bits of hallowed ground, I don’t feel complete, and I don’t feel as though I’m fully grounded. I’ve often wondered why that is.

I’ve never been able to come up with a good explanation, other than it just got into my heart and soul, and has remained there, continuing to draw me again and again. There’s one way to try to explain it. My all-time Jimmy Buffett song is titled “A Pirate Looks at Forty.” Jimmy himself is fond of saying that he hopes that the song helps to ease people’s pain. The first three stanzas go:

Mother, mother ocean, I have heard you call
Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall
You’ve seen it all, you’ve seen it all

Watched the men who rode you switch from sails to steam
And in your belly you hold the treasures few have ever seen
Most of ’em dream, most of ’em dream

Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothin’ to plunder
I’m an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late

I often think that this song describes me, that I was actually meant to be a Civil War cavalryman. I’m certainly over forty, and the cannons–at least the three inch ordnance rifles, anyway–don’t thunder. There’s not much left to plunder (legally, anyway), and I’m clearly a victim of fate. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I’m drawn to Gettysburg. I still hear the guns every time I go there, and I see myself with saber drawn, mounted on a trusty steed, charging for my foeman for a clash of steel, hand to hand…..

She’s a jealous mistress, too. No matter how hard I might try to break away, or to become fascinated by something else, I am drawn back to her time and time again. I’ve heard her call one more time. I’m headed there tomorrow for the weekend. Hopefully, I will be better grounded again when I get back.

More when I get back…..

Scridb filter

Continue reading

28 Sep 2005, by

Guest bloggers

Like Brett Schulte, I also intend to invite a few select friends to post here from time to time. I hope you will welcome their contributions as warmly as you have welcomed mine so far.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

28 Sep 2005, by


I wanted to take a moment to thank two people who inspired me to do this. Prof. Mark Grimsley of The Ohio State University has a unique blog. Mark uses his blog in an effort to explore ways to assist in the evolution of academic military history. It’s called Blog Them Out of the Stone Age. Mark focuses on the role that military history plays in the academic world, and also offers interesting insights into his own personality and what drives him. I have always admired and respected his courage in putting himself out there in such a public fashion. When I told Mark that I was thinking about doing this, he was full of encouragement.

Dimitri Rotov maintains another especially interesting blog called Civil War Bookshelf. Dimitri has very strong opinions about what does and does not make a good Civil War book, and he’s not afraid to share those opinions. I may not always agree with those very strong opinions, but I always respect Dimitri’s opinions on things.

These two bloggers always impress me with the regularity with which they post, and the consistent quality of their posts. They have inspired me to attempt this, and I can only hope that the things that I post are as well considered and as what they post.

Brett Schulte’s blog is another one I read regularly, although it was only started a couple of weeks before I launched mine. I have posted a couple of guest posts on Brett’s blog and will continue to do so from time to time. Drew Wagenhoffer’s blog launched at the same time that Brett’s did. I read Drew’s posts every day, too. My blog was already in the works when Brett and Drew launched theirs, so I can’t honestly say that they influenced me to do my own, but I neverhtless appreciate what they post.

Thanks to all of you. I hope that I meet your expectations.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

I think that I get asked this question more than any other. I have to admit that there are times when I grow thoroughly sick of it. The obvious answer, of course, is why not the Civil War?

However, that oversimplifies things too much and is probably a bit too flippant to be an appropriate response. So, I will attempt to answer the question here.

No other period in American history impacted this country more than did the period 1861-1865. 600,000 Americans died in an internecine struggle that was probably inevitable. With the tension between Federalism and states rights that marked the great compromises of the Constitutional Convention, it became obvious that one side or the other had to win out. Either there would be a strong central government, or there would be a loose confederation of states wherein the Federal government provided for the national defense and not much else. Mix in economic disparities and the tensions of the debate over slavery, and you have a real witch’s brew. I think that the war was inevitable. The question was not if, but when.

The outcome made this country what it is today. We are now a single country–people are Americans first, not Virginians or Pennsylvanians. That is what made this a great country and propelled it into becoming a world superpower.

So, with that in mind, why not the Civil War?

Scridb filter

Continue reading

Google has commenced a program intended to make more books available on-line, in a free digital format. As an author, I have intensely mixed feelings about this program. On one hand, anything that promotes the further distribution of books or which in any way spreads the word about my work is potentially a good thing. Likewise, I wholeheartedly support the idea of making public domain works available for free in a digital format. Everyone wins there, and no authors are hurt since their entitlement to royalties expired long ago. However, as a lawyer, there is little doubt in my mind that that portion of this program that deals with works that are still subject to protection constitutes copyright infringement on a massive scale.

In this program, Google has decided to disregard the wishes of both publishers and authors by making their works available on-line for free. Here is a link to an article about this program. In order to strong arm publishers into participating, those who agree will have a “buy this book” link placed on the listing for that book. Those who don’t agree, won’t have that link included. The intent is obvious, and it’s a none-too-subtle effort to compel publishers to participate. In order to get around the problem of uncooperative publishers, Google has entered into agreements with three major university libraries to use their collections as the fodder for their scanning efforts.

Google claims that it will permit authors or publishers to opt out of its program. “We think most publishers and authors will choose to participate in the publisher program in order (to) introduce their work to countless readers around the world. But we know that not everyone agrees, and we want to do our best to respect their views too,” said the director of the program.

In my mind, there is no question that that is copyright infringement. Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. In Grokster, the Court addressed a challenge to the system of downloadable file-sharing of copyrighted music and film files on a peer-to-peer network. These ubiquitous networks have led to a proliferation of copyright infringement by permitting the distribution of copyrighted material for free. In short, the complaint against Grokster and its kind is that the copyrighted material is distributed for free, with no compensation to either the artist of the record company.

The U. S. Supreme Court found that “the unlawful objective is unmistakable,” and held that “one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties. We are, of course, mindful of the need to keep from trenching on regular commerce or discouraging the development of technologies with lawful and unlawful potential. Accordingly, just as Sony did not find intentional inducement despite the knowledge of the VCR manufacturer that its device could be used to infringe, 464 U.S. at 439, n. 19, mere knowledge of infringing potential or of actual infringing uses would not be enough here to subject a distributor to liability. Nor would ordinary acts incident to product distribution, such as offering customers technical support or product updates, support liability in themselves. The inducement rule, instead, premises liability on purposeful, culpable expression and conduct, and thus does nothing to compromise legitimate commerce or discourage innovation having a lawful promise.”

In my mind, what Google is proposing to do is absolutely no different from what Grokster and Napster did. It is not only inducing copyright infringement, it is actively encouraging and promoting it. It is a gross violation of my intellectual property rights, and the intellectual property rights of every other author who has poured his or her blood, sweat, and tears into their work. Nobody asked my permission, and if they had, I would say no.

I think that the most I have ever made in a year from the sale of my books is about $5,000. Clearly, that’s not enough to live on, and it probably doesn’t even cover what I spend per year on researching and gathering materials for my various projects. In short, it’s an awfully good thing that I don’t rely on my writing to make a living, because if I did, I would be living in a cardboard box somewhere. Given the fact that I make so little, and given the fact that I don’t do this purely out of altruism, it should not be much of a surprise that I wouldn’t support such a policy or program. In fact, I have specifically instructed at least one of my publishers to opt my works out of this program.

I was very pleased to see that the Authors Guild has commenced a class action copyright infringement suit against Google to enjoin this massive and arrogant flouting of my intellectual property rights. Here is an article about it. I wholeheartedly support this suit, and intend to take steps to join the class.

I appreciate everyone who buys my books. I fully understand and appreciate the fact that you have chosen to spend your hard-earned money on my work and that you could have spent that money on something else instead. That is both humbling and flattering to me, and I greatly appreciate it every time that it happens. I also appreciate the fact that my work can be checked out of a library. The library purchased that book. What I cannot and will not abide is the idea that the fruits of my labors can be stolen and given away for free with alacrity.

Thank you for your support.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

A version of this post has previously appeared on Bret Schulte’s blog.

I’ve always been one to buck settled history. In my mind, the only way to make sure that history remains a living, breathing, evolving thing is to challenge its settled assumptions. Properly and responsibly done, revisionism can be a powerful and welcome tool that causes us all to sit back and ask whether we should change the way we look at things. Consequently, I’ve always been known as one who’s not afraid of tilting at windmills.

However, doing so carries a great deal of responsibility. Whenever we challenge settled interpretations of history, we must do so carefully. Words are an extraordinarily powerful tool, and the choice of words can play havoc on people and on settled interpretations. Consequently, the only appropriate way to revise settled history is to do so responsibly and where there is ample evidence to support those revisionist interpretations of history.

I wish I could say that Tom Carhart’s recent book, _Lost Triumph: Lee’s Real Plan at Gettysburg–and Why It Failed_ is a worthy piece of revisionist history that adds something to the existing body of knowledge. Sadly, I cannot. Carhart’s work is revisionism of the worst sort–it’s grossly irresponsible, and there is not a shred of evidence to support Carhart’s contentions. What astonishes me most of all is that people have been flocking to buy this piece of tripe and that prominent and well-respected historians such as James McPherson and John Keegan have put their imprimatur on something that has no basis in fact.

Carhart’s theory is that Pickett’s Charge was to be coordinated with Jeb Stuart’s thrust at the Union rear with his cavalry. According to Carhart, the one true hero of the Battle of Gettysburg–the man who saved the Union–was Brig. Gen. George A. Custer. Thus, the clash on East Cavalry Field takes on an importance that it never had. Even for the most ardent cavalry admirer–like me–East Cavalry Field, while tactically important, has never been much more than a sideshow to the big show, to borrow a line from Sam Watkins.

The problem with this theory is that there simply is not a single shred of evidence to support it. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Stuart’s movement was in any fashion coordinated with what we now know as Pickett’s Charge. Not to be deterred by the facts, Carhart makes the preposterous and wholly unsubstantiated claim that the historical evidence was either destroyed, or even more absurd, that it was hidden and kept from Jeb Stuart to protect his delicate ego. Never mind that there is not a single stitch of evidence to support any of this. Where there is no evidence, Carhart just makes it up, inventing conversations that never took place to suit his purposes.

Where there is historical or documentary evidence that rebuts his theory, Carhart either manipulates it to suit his purposes, or he launches personal attacks on them. An excellent example of this is Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg, who commanded the Federal forces on East Cavalry Field. Gregg, according to Carhart, lied in his official report of the action in order to steal the credit that rightfully belonged to George A. Custer. The problem with this is that even the staunchest Custer supporter–Capt. James H. Kidd, who was Custer’s hand-picked successor to command the Michigan Cavalry Brigade when Custer was promoted to division command–saw it otherwise. Here’s what Kidd had to say about this:

“Thus, it is made plain that there was no ‘mistake’ about it. It was Gregg’s prescience. He foresaw the risk of attempting to guard the right flank with only the two decimated brigades of his own division. With him, to see was to act. He took the responsibility of intercepting Kilpatrick’s rear and largest brigade, turning it off the Baltimore pike to the right, instead of allowing it to go to the left as it had been ordered to do, and thus, doubtless, a serious disaster was averted. It makes us tremble to think of what might have been, of what inevitably must have happened had Gregg, with only two two little brigades of McIntosh and Irvin Gregg, and Randol’s battery, tried to cope single-handed with the four brigades and three batteries, comprising the very flower of Confederate cavalry and artillery, which those brave knights–Stuart, Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee–were marshaling in person on Cress’ Ridge. If Custer’s presence on this field was opportune, and, as has often been said, providential, it is to General D. M. Gregg to whom, under Providence, the credit for bringing him here is due. Gregg was a great and modest soldier; let us pause a moment before we enter upon a description of the coming battle, to pay him the tribute of our admiration. In the light of all of the official reports, put together link by link, so as to make one connected chain of evidence, we can see that the engagement which took place twenty-six years ago, was, from first to last, a well planned battle, in which the different commands were maneuvered and placed with the same sagacity displayed by a skillful chess player in moving the pieces upon a chess board; in which every detail was the fruit of the brain of one man, who, from the time when he turned Custer to the northward until he sent the First Michigan thundering against the brigades of Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee made not a single false move; who was distinguished not less for his intuitive foresight than for his quick perceptions at critical moments. That man was General David McM. Gregg.”

Unlike Tom Carhart, James H. Kidd was there, and was an active participant in that battle. Kidd had the benefit of his own observations, as well as of speaking with many other veterans. Kidd also worshipped George Custer. Kidd also said, “This conclusion has been reached by a mind not–certainly not–predisposed in that direction, after a careful recent study, and review of all the information within reach bearing upon that eventful day. If the Michigan Brigade won honors there that will not perish, it was to Gregg that it owed the opportunity; and his guiding hand it was that made its blows effective. We shall see how, later in the day, he again boldly took responsibility at a critical moment and held Custer to his work on the right, even after the latter had been ordered by higher authority than he (Gregg), to rejoin Kilpatrick, and after Custer had begun the movement.”

It bears noting that these passages by Kidd come from his speech at the 1889 dedication of the monument to the Michigan Cavalry Brigade that stands on the spot where the 1st Michigan Cavalry’s charge crashed into the onrushing Confederate cavalry on East Cavalry Field. This address has been published a number of times, including in Kidd’s well-known memoirs and also in a MOLLUS paper, and was readily available to Carhart. He never mentions it in his book.

Another point that needs to be made here is that Gregg actually usurped Custer twice during the fighting on East Cavalry Field. On two separate instances, Gregg issued orders directly to the commanders of first the 7th Michigan and later the 1st Michigan Cavalry regiments to charge. On both instances, Custer joined the charges, but he never ordered them. The fact that Custer had only been a general officer for four days, and that other than the fights and Hanover and Hunterstown, he had never led anything larger than a squad, while Gregg had been a general officer since the fall of 1862 and had a great deal more experience may have had something to do with this. Alternatively, perhaps expedience may have required that Gregg usurp Custer. Irrespective of the motives, the fact remains that Custer never ordered these charges, Gregg did. There is plenty of historical evidence to prove this.

Quite disenguously, Carhart then argues that Gregg–who, by the way, was known as one of the modest and self-effacing officers to serve in the Army of the Potomac–intentionally downplayed Custer’s role in order to play up his own role. This outrageous, slanderous claim flies directly in the face of ample historical evidence: David Gregg was remembered fondly by his men as “tall and spare, of notable activity, capable of the greatest exertion and exposure; gentle in manner but bold and resolute in action. Firm and just in discipline he was a favorite of his troopers and ever held, for he deserved, their affection and entire confidence.” Gregg knew the principles of war and was always ready and eager to apply them. Endowed “with a natural genius of high order, he [was] universally hailed as the finest type of cavalry leader. A man of unimpeachable personal character, in private life affable and genial but not demonstrative, he fulfilled with modesty and honor all the duties of the citizen and head of an interesting and devoted family.” A former officer later commented that Gregg’s “modesty kept him from the notoriety that many gained through the newspapers; but in the army the testimony of all officers who knew him was the same. Brave, prudent, dashing when occasion required dash, and firm as a rock, he was looked upon, both as a regimental commander and afterwards as Major-General, as a man in whose hands any troops were safe.” His men called him “Old Reliable.” Does that sound like a man who would downplay Custer’s role just to advance his own interests?

Carhart also claims that Stuart’s decision to order one of his batteries to fire four shots in the four directions of the compass was a signal to Robert E. Lee that he was in position and that Lee could then order the grand assault that became Pickett’s Charge. There is not a single shred of documentary evidence to support this claim. None at all. Further, historian Bill Styple has recently published an excellent new book titled _Generals in Bronze_, which consists of transcripts of interviews conducted by the eminent sculptor, James Kelly, who sculpted the monument to John Buford on the Gettysburg battlefield. One officer interviewed by Kelly was Alexander C. M. Pennington, who commanded the battery of horse artillery assigned to serve with Custer’s brigade. Here’s what Pennington had to say about this episode:

“When Jeb Stuart rode round our army at Gettysburg without striking us on the morning of July 3rd, he found that he could not locate us. Now [Maj. Henry] McClellan who was on his staff told me this story. He said that Stuart looked in every direction but could find no sign of our troops, so he ordered a gun out and ordered it to be fired in different directions in hopes of getting an echo or a reply from one of our guns, and then through his glass locate the smoke.

He fired in one direction, and then [received] an answering gun. He said that shot from that gun entered the muzzle of their gun, and knocked it off the trunions, breaking two wheels. Now, he said, this seems remarkable, almost incredible, but when he told me that story he said, ‘I assure you on the honor of a gentleman that it is true.’ And the singular fact is that it was my gun that did it. I was standing with Custer when I told my gunners to fire at them. He was an Irishman by the name of ————. I noticed he took a long time before he fired. Of course we could not tell at that distance exactly what happened.”

My experience is that H. B. McClellan, who was Stuart’s adjutant, is a reliable and dependable source. So much for Carhart’s nonsensical theory.

Carhart also devotes a major portion of this book–in redundant and poorly written fashion–discussing the historical battles that were taught as the primary curriculum at West Point. The actual discussion of the fighting on East Cavalry Field occupies only a small portion of the overall book, but Carhart claims that these historical lessons molded, formed, and drove Lee’s strategy for the third day at Gettysburg. Never mind that there is no evidence to support any of this. Instead, Carhart conveniently claims that a 1935 fire destroyed the evidence. How convenient.

The rest of this book is just as poorly researched. The book has no bibliography, which makes it impossible to examine the scope of his research. When we reach the discussion of East Cavalry Field, the only real primary sources consulted by Carhart seem to be the Official Records of the Civil War, and the correspondence by veterans included in _The Bachelder Papers_. While the _Bachelder Papers_ are an invaluable source, there are many more important primary sources that Carhart either ignored outright, or more likely, simply disregarded if they did not support his thesis. That this is lazy at best and intellectually dishonest at worst should be obvious.

This book also contains many major errors. How, for instance, is it possible to sneak 4,000 mounted men behind Union lines without detection? According to Carhart, the paved road network meant that billowing clouds of dust would not betray his presence. Later on, Carhart claims that Custer saw the dust of Stuart’s advance, thereby enabling him to prepare his brilliant defense. Which is it? These sorts of inconsistencies fill this book and leave the reader scratching his or her head and wondering just what the hell Carhart’s really trying to say.

I think that the thing that bothers me the most about this book is that, which seems to be selling the hell out of it, has apparently decided that it is no longer interested in honest and fair critical assessments of the works it sells in its reviews section. There have been multiple negative reviews of this festering pile of garbage, and most–but not all–have been censored by Amazon. I am aware, for instance, that one individual has had three different reviews deleted/censored by Amazon. Of course, any fawning review is kept, but anything that questions or otherwise criticizes this terrible book gets censored, meaning that unknowing or unsuspecting consumers will end up buying this book because they have been intentionally misled. In my mind, this is consumer fraud. Then, when the likes of Keegan and McPherson endorse this garbage, it only adds to the appearance of the legitimacy of what is a lousy piece of work.

This book is an intellectually dishonest, poorly researched, fabricated piece of tripe that manipulates SOME of the available evidence to support foregone conclusions and which should be marketed as fiction. It is certainly not history, and it constitutes revisionism of the worst variety. Save your money. Buy a happy meal at McDonald’s. You will find it to be a much better–and ultimately more satisfying–use of your hard-earned money.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

This was originally posted on Brett Schulte’s blog.

Drew Wagenhoffer had a piece on his blog this week about lawyers who write Civil War history. He had a list of us, myself included. Fortunately, most of us are well-respected names like Gordon Rhea, Kent Masterson Brown, Russel “Cap” Beatie, and the dean of all of us, Alan Nolan. It’s been my good fortune to be able to count Gordon and Kent as friends—Gordon graced my study of Sheridan’s Trevilian Raid with an excellent foreword—and I know Alan Nolan from attending the Gettysburg College Civil War Institute. Alan’s book Lee Considered served as the model for my book Little Phil: An Assessment of the Civil War Generalship of Philip H. Sheridan. Gordon does tremendous work, and Kent’s study of the retreat from Gettysburg is already a classic. I don’t know Cap Beatie, but I admire and respect his work. He’s written two tremendous books on the early days of the Army of the Potomac, and he’s a co-owner of Savas-Beatie Publishing. Ted Savas, his partner in that venture, is also a lawyer, although if you ask Ted, he will tell you that he’s a recovering lawyer (which, I might add, I aspire to be sooner than later).

I won’t be so bold as to speak for my fellow barristers, so what you’re about to get here is my perspective on things.

First, there’s the obvious question of why are there so many lawyers who are so prominent in this field of endeavor? In my case, it’s the convergence of a lot of things. First, I have had a very powerful fascination with the Civil War since a third-grade class trip to Gettysburg in about 1968 or so. The study of the war has been a major influence in my life since that trip—I checked the American Heritage picture book of the Civil War out of the library the next day, and have never looked back. Mix in the fact that I don’t particularly enjoy the practice of law very much and that, given my druthers, I would much prefer my historical work. Finally, I have a very restless mind and a short attention span. I spend many an evening writing in front of the TV (I’ve actually killed off a couple of laptop computers that way—in a future post, I will relate those sagas), with the TV basically serving as background noise. I’m pretty sure that I have a mild case of ADD, as I’ve always needed background noise and a little bit of distraction to be able to concentrate. My writing is no exception. Finally, my wife Susan had a series of jobs that required her to work a lot of evenings, and then she went back to school to finish her degree. So, there were plenty of evenings where I didn’t have much else to do, and writing was an excellent way to pass the time. People often ask me how it’s possible for me to be as prolific as I am—I’ve just told you very specifically.

So, why write history? The short answer is that I’ve done scholarly legal research and writing, and after my fourth scholarly article on the law was published, I was bored, and was really looking for something else to do. Given my almost life-long fascination with the Civil War, that was an easy decision to make. Anyone who knows me knows that I love challenges. I haven’t had a formal history class of any sort since the 10th grade. I am entirely self-taught, so I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of mastering an entirely new discipline. My first article, on Joshua Chamberlain, was published the week we got married in 1992, and it was, if I may say so myself, very bad indeed. I’m honestly embarrassed by just how bad it was as I look back on it today, but you have to start somewhere, and that’s where I started. For me, this was a logical progression, and once I tried it, I loved it.

Finally, how does my legal training affect my historical work? Well, that’s actually rather simple. As law students, we’re taught that you can never, ever assert that something is a proposition of law or statement of fact without having either specific pieces of evidence or legal authority to support that. I’ve always adhered to that important piece of instruction—I had a law review article years ago that had nearly 300 footnotes because of it—and it’s always been how I attack the writing of history. It’s why I’ve always tried to be exhaustive in my research, and it’s also the specific reason why my work tends to have so many footnotes—I feel compelled to exhaustively document the things that I say whenever possible to do so.

Also, trying cases is a form of story telling. I’ve probably done 60 trials of different varieties in my career. You pick a theme, you build your story around that theme, and then you tell your story piece by piece. Each piece of evidence is intended to build on the last one until the pile of evidence, if you will, meets the burden of proof and the picture is complete. I’ve always been pretty good at legal writing—I wrote onto one of the law journals in law school, was a legal writing teaching assistant as a third-year student, and then was an adjunct legal writing instructor at the Ohio State University School of Law for five years earlier in my career.

However, just because someone is a good legal writer doesn’t mean that they will be a good writer of history. Either you can write, or you can’t. However, the training does apply. I write history the same way that I put together a case…carefully and piece by piece. In that sense, what I do is exactly the same irrespective of whether I’m doing legal work or writing history….I’m still interpreting and presenting evidence in a fashion that enables me to weave a complete story. Fortunately, I seem to have some native talent for writing, and the rest has been practice, practice, practice. It’s like anything else—the more you do something, the better you get at it. I’ve done a lot of it by now, and I can honestly say that my writing has improved dramatically over the years. I will never have the practiced ease of a novelist like Shelby Foote, or the ability to create memorable prose like Bruce Catton—a journalist—did. Instead, I tell the story as completely as I can, with as much detail as I can manage, and then hope it’s good enough.

There is typically one major difference. When I’m acting as a lawyer, I am acting as an advocate. I’ve been hired to serve as an advocate, which means that my job—my ethical requirement, for that matter—is to zealously represent the interests of my client to the fullest extent of the law. That means that I’m not being objective, I’m advocating a position. With one notable exception—which I will touch on momentarily—I do not approach history from the angle of advocacy. Rather, I go where the historical evidence leads me, even if those conclusions run counter to what I might otherwise hope. Once I see where the evidence leads me, I then tell the story as completely and objectively as I can.

There has been one very notable exception to this rule. My book Little Phil makes no attempt at objectivity. From the very beginning of the book, I tell the reader that I am serving as an advocate, that the book has been written as a lawyer’s brief. I lay out my case—as if I was trying it to a jury—with no pretense of objectivity. I’ve been criticized for that, but I think that it was important to be honest and up front about the approach. That approach was admittedly taken from the work of Alan Nolan, and I have always freely acknowledged that his book Lee Considered was very much the model for my Sheridan book. It bears noting, though, that the Sheridan book was probably a once in a lifetime thing—while I try never to say never again for the most part, I can’t envision myself undertaking such a project again. My subsequent work has gone back to an objective telling of the story, punctuated by my take on events, and that’s how I expect to proceed as time passes.

One final point needs to be made. I write because I love it. I write because I need to do so in order to keep my sanity in a high-stress profession. Finally, I write because I feel compelled to tell the stories of the men who fought and died to give us the country that we have today.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

24 Sep 2005, by

My new blog

This is something that I have been wanting to do for a while, but unfortunately, my wife Susan and I are both way too busy for our own good at times. Consequently, it’s taken longer than I might have hoped to get this blog started. However, I have quite a bit that I want to say, and I hope that those of you who decide to come along for the ride find it worthwhile.

For those who don’t know me, I am a Civil War cavalry historian. I’m also a practicing attorney in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve had ten books published to date, with another one in the works. I’ve also had more that two dozen articles published in national Civil War magazines. The vast majority of my work deals with Civil War cavalry operations, with a particular emphasis on the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps. Shortly, the rest of the normal content for this site will be back up, which includes a little of my work and some other items of interest.

I am not an academic historian. In fact, I have had no formal training in history or historiography. My last history class was in tenth grade. I am entirely self-taught. Consequently, I sometimes get testy when people challenge my credentials or my work. I hope that my body of work speaks for itself.

In this blog, I hope to share my thoughts and observations of my Civil War historical work. I will share some of my own experiences as a researcher and writer, I will provide some constructive criticism and book reviews of the work of others, and will address issues that are pertinent to my work that I hope others will find interesting. Every once in a while, I guest blog on Brett Schulte’s blog. When that happens, I will probably post the same material here. There are two of my entries already on Brett’s blog, and modified versions of them will be posted here in the next day or so. I will probably also invite a few of my friends to post here from time to time also. So, please don’t be surprised if a guest blogger shows up every now and again.

I have another site devoted to my work, Rush’s Lancers, a fine Philadelphia cavalry regiment which was also known as the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry. Please visit that site. Also, please check out our links section, and please visit the Civil War Discussion Group Online . We have some good discussions and some good debates there, and I hope you will join us. Membership is free.

In any event, I want to welcome you to my blog, and to my little corner of the Internet. I hope you enjoy your time here.


Scridb filter

Continue reading

In: Blogging | Tags:

This is the home of, a premiere site about the cavalry of the American Civil War, as well as other Civil War topics of interest. This site is owned by Eric Wittenberg, a Civil War historian and author.

Scridb filter

Continue reading

In: Blogging | Tags:
Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress