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January, 2006

31 Jan 2006, by

Another Dilemma

Okay, here’s another dilemma.

I use DHL Express for my overnight shipping needs. I was a loyal Airborne Express customer, and then when DHL merged with Airborne, my account switched over. In the legal business, we do a lot of overnight shipping of things. I’m convinced that we lawyers keep FedEx and DHL in business. Sending stuff overnight has become routine.

I’m also an Internet junkie. That comes from previously owning an Internet service provider, which Susan and I did at one time. Consequently, e-mail has become crucial to my way of life. Because of that, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a Blackberry (aka Crackberry, as they’re so damned addictive) for some time. The thing that has held me back is that Blackberry just lost a major patent infringement suit that threatens to shut down their U. S. operations entirely if the case doesn’t settle. As things sit at the moment, it’s not looking good for Blackberry. The threat of a shut down is, candidly, the only reason why I haven’t taken the plunge. I didn’t want to spend the money and then have the thing shut down.

Today, I was notified by DHL that, because I shipped with them during a specific time when they were running a promotion, I can get a free Crackberry from them as a premium for having shipped then. Mind you, it was nothing intentional by me–I had a need, and I used my normal vendor. Nothing more, nothing less. Now, I have the chance to get the Crackberry for free, but the threat of a shutdown still looms, and nobody knows when things will change, if at all.

So, I’m now faced with a real dilemma, and I candidly don’t have a clue about what to do about it…..

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Dimitri Rotov has a fabulous post on his blog today about Ethan Rafuse’s treatment of the crisis of command that occurred between September 1-5, 1862. In an extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis of Ethan’s discussion of these events, Dimitri has done much to educate me. This is a period that is of interest to me, but at the same time, it’s always been tangential to my work, so I’ve not gone into a great deal of detail in examining it. In reading Dimitri’s post today, I’ve learned a great deal in the process.

What I like about Dimtri’s approach here is that he’s very methodical and very analytical, giving credit where Ethan got something right, and pointing out where got something wrong. It’s the same sort of scholarly approach that I tried to use when I did the critical analysis of Tom Carhart’s festering pile of crap in one of my first entries on this blog. Like Dimitri, I tried to use a detailed, scholarly analysis to show where all of the problems were with the book and to show where it was wrong. The difference, of course, is that Dimitri found a lot of merit in Ethan’s work, whereas I found none at all in Carhart’s.

Simply shredding something for the sake of shredding is fine. It obviously has more credibility if you have the horsepower to back it up, and that’s how I’ve tried to approach critiquing the work of others.

Kudos to Dimitri for a really outstanding post.

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A week or so ago, I posted here about Twin Commonwealth Publishing, a company and web site that I had not been aware of until Drew Wagenhoffer posted about it on his blog.

After checking out Drew’s post, I went to the Twin Commonwealth web site and reviewed all of the offerings. While their list of Civil War selections is still pretty small, they’ve got some really rare and really interesting stuff. It’s all really rare stuff, much of which I’ve never seen available anywhere else. As I’ve mentioned here previously, I’m working on research to do a book on Morgan’s Indiana and Ohio Raid of 1863, and am always on the lookout for material that’s pertinent. I found a work by Basil W. Duke titled _A Romance of Morgan’s Rough Riders: The Raid_ listed there. I was marginally aware of this publication, which is terribly rare. It’s actually three pieces combined–one by Duke, one by Thomas Hines on the escape from the Ohio Penitentiary, and a third about other aspects of the raid. These articles evidently were originally published in _The Century_ magazine but did not make their way into _Battles and Leaders of the Civil War_(as many articles didn’t). The book was only $10.95, which was certainly reasonable, even if is only a 75 page book.

Twin Commonwealth uses a print-on-demand printing company called Lulu.com to do their printing. Print-on-demand, not surprisingly, means that something is printed only when an order is received, and it also means that things are generally not maintained in inventory. That I had book in hand less than two weeks after placing a print-on-demand order speaks highly for both Lulu and for Twin Commonwealth.

I immediately ordered the book, which arrived today. It’s perfect bound (that’s softcover for those of you not up on publishing lingo), but it’s clean. The originals were scanned and cleaned up, and the images came through pretty well. There’s one bad one–a photo of Morgan–that’s all rasterized, but the rest of them came through quite nicely. The book is only 75 pages, and there’s not much in the way of cover art. However, I’m very pleased with the overall product, and am glad that I purchased it, as it makes for a good primary source addition to my Morgan’s Raid research.

According to the web site, Twin Commonwealth is constantly adding new titles. There are also a number of interesting Revolutionary War titles listed in their catalog, and I am interested in pursuing more of those. In short, I will be placing further orders with Twin Commonwealth in the future.

Thanks again to Drew Wagenhoffer for tipping me off about the existence of this company.

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29 Jan 2006, by

Finds

Every now and again, you find materials in repositories that cause you to say, “how is that this has never been published?”

There are a number of instances of this that I can think of.

When John Pope commanded the Army of Virginia, he had a staff officer named T.C.H. Smith. Smith was extremely loyal, and decided to write a defense of Pope’s conduct during the Second Bull Run Campaign. He spent years corresponding with various veterans of both sides, gathering material. Smith then wrote a book manuscript telling the story of the campaign his way. For some reason, the book has never been published, even though Smith completed the manuscript. The entire collection–manuscript AND correspondence–is at the Ohio Historical Society. I looked at it years ago, when I was researching cavalry operations in the Second Bull Run Campaign, and came away wondering why nobody has ever published the thing. While it probably won’t sell a ton of copies, it would definitely make a good university press book project.

Here’s another example. Perhaps the single best soldier diary I have ever read was written by a sergeant of the 1st Maine Cavalry named Nathan Webb. Webb’s diary is at the Clements Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The descriptions are fabulous, and so is the detail. The problem with the diary is that it’s (a) huge and (b) cannot be photocopied. That means that anybody wanting to use it has to sit and transcribe it by hand with a pencil or on a laptop. Obviously, those are not terribly good or productive options for making something useful. The last time I wanted to use some of it, I ended up having to pay an undergraduate student to go to the library and sit and transcribe the thing for me. It took weeks to get the stuff, and was expensive to pay the kid to do the work. I wish someone would publish this diary–it’s well worth it, and it would make an excellent addition to the body of knowledge.

Here’s a final example–a career soldier named John Bigelow, Jr. made chronicling the Battle of Chancellorsville his life’s mission. Like John B. Bachelder did at Gettysburg, Bigelow also collected a tremendous volume of correspondence from participants describing their part in the battle in their own words. He then used those materials to write a history of the battle that was published with a very impressive map series. This incredible collection of correspondence was donated to the Library of Congress, where it resides to this day. It seems to me that a worthy addition to the existing body of knowledge would be for someone to compile all of that correspondence and publish it as David and Audrey Ladd did with the papers of John B. Bachelder pertaining to his research on the Battle of Gettysburg, which have become one of my very favorite Gettysburg sources.

Tom Clemens has been working on editing Ezra Carmen’s history of the Battle of Antietam, which is a previously unpublished account of the battle, and it had its genesis in his Ph.D. dissertation. It seems to me that there are lots of other good, useful projects out there that would make fabulous Ph.D. projects. I can only hope that someone will figure that out and take advantage of them. The three mentioned here undoubtedly barely scratch the surface of what’s still out there.

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28 Jan 2006, by

Research

Because of my professional responsibilities, I rarely get the chance to go to archives and libraries and actually do the digging myself. I seldom have time, and it also doesn’t make a lot of economic sense for me to spend a lot of time digging myself when it’s much less expensive to pay someone to do this for me. That way, I continue being able to bill my time at my hourly rate while someone else researches for me at a MUCH lower hourly rate.

However, I had promised Noah Andre Trudeau that I would go to the Ohio Historical Society and get some stuff for him. Andy’s working on what will undoubtedly be the definitive work on Sherman’s March to the Sea, and since he lives in Washington, DC, it’s difficult for him to get to OHS. My office, on the other hand, is just over ten minutes’ driving time from OHS, and I’ve been needing to get there myself to check out their holdings on Morgan’s Indiana and Ohio Raid of 1863, which is one of the primary reasons why I agreed to do this for Andy. Since I was going anyway, it added absolutely no burden for me to go do this for him.

Susan’s been in Pittsburgh visiting her sister for a couple of days, and I didn’t have much to do in her absence. I cleared my schedule out for today and made a trip to OHS to fulfill my commitment to Andy. What a shame. OHS has been treated miserably by the Ohio General Assembly for years. It’s very much the red-headed step child. Although it relies upon state appropriations for most of its funding, it gets next to nothing, making an easy target for budget cutters in Ohio’s miserable economy. Most of its satellite sites have been closed due to lack of funding, and the Ohio Village, a replica of a Civil War-era town that housed period craftsmen, is never open now. Because nobody in this state seems to give a damn about history, it’s one of the first and primary targets for budget cuts each year, and each year something more gets slashed. Consequently, the library and archives, which have an impressive collection, are only open for part of the day on Wednesday and Thursday and from 9-5 on Saturday. That’s it. It means that it’s terribly inconvenient to go there; the last time I meant to go, I cleared a morning and then discovered that they were only open in the afternoon. The lack of being user-friendly at all is a big part of the reason why it took me much longer than I might otherwise have liked to get Andy’s stuff for him.

I showed up there today, and got Andy’s material right away, fulfilling my obligation. I then turned my attention to Morgan’s 1863 Indiana and Ohio Raid. Given that the most important events of the raid occurred here in Ohio, and that Morgan spent the most time here, it makes sense that there would be lots of good material available. In the course of about three hours–until I ran out of copying money–I found seven or eight excellent primary source materials that nobody else has ever used in writing about Morgan’s Raid. One was a phenomenal letter by a soldier describing the nine days and nights spent in the saddle chasing Morgan that I’ve never seen before. I also found a small published pamphlet by the commander of the 8th Michigan Cavalry about the pursuit of Morgan that I doubt has ever been used by anyone else previously. I’m excited about it. I’m also far from finished. I have at least three more trips to make there before I feel like I’ve gotten everything that there is to be had.

I also wasn’t the smartest today. I was kept up too late by restless dogs who had been alone too much yesterday (I had to go to work and then went to the Blue Jackets game last night), and clearly wasn’t hitting on all eight cylinders this morning when I left. Consequently, it never even occurred to me to take a laptop with me, so I ended up transcribing a bunch of letters by hand, which is a miserable business at best. Because I was using manuscript materials and rare books, I was forced to use a pencil–and a tiny golf-style pencil at that. I hate writing with pencils and have since childhood. Unless they’re razor sharp–which they don’t stay for more than a few seconds–I REALLY don’t like writing with them. Having to transcribe this stuff by hand was NO fun. The next time that I go, I will definitely take a laptop with me so that I can transcribe stuff.

My point in raising all of this is that even with its terribly inconvenient hours and painfully thin staff, the folks at OHS are friendly and very, very helpful. All of this material is there, just begging for somebody to use it. Why the author of the recent book on Morgan’s Raid didn’t avail himself of these materials is really a mystery to me, because he lives in Cincinnati. Aside from this book’s distinct lack of editing or proofreading, it’s painfully short on primary source research materials. The author talked to every family along the raid route he could find, collecting tons of oral history anecdotes that cannot be corroborated (and repeated them as the gospel truth), but overlooked lots of good stuff like the stuff I found today. This fellow invested years into doing what he did. In less than a year of working on this raid, I’ve already turned up substantially more in the way of primary source material than he did in all his years of working on the project. That says to me that he was either plain lazy or he didn’t understand the importance of using only credible sources. Probably it’s some of both. In short, this book embodies most of the things that I really hate in a book, including the total lack of any sort of a bibliography. Why it’s gotten the rave reviews it’s garnered really is a mystery to me, as I think it’s terrible.

That this book is woefully deficient in lots of ways is the exact reason why I decided to tackle Morgan’s Raid–it still lacks the sort of scholarly treatment it deserves, and that 1998 book certainly is NOT that.

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26 Jan 2006, by

Speaking

Speaking is something I do a lot of. It’s not unusual for me to give 20-30 talks per year, all around the country. Sometimes, I love it. Sometimes, I despise it.

Here’s the thing. Some of the talks that I do, I just can’t stand any more. Like the Sheridan bashing talk that I do. Mind you, I’ve never particularly enjoyed that talk from the beginning. I don’t like Sheridan, and the thought of giving the same talk over and over again just doesn’t excite me a bit, particularly with a subject I dislike as much as I dislike Sheridan. I was invited to speak to a Civil War Round Table in Tennessee in March, and the program chair asked me to do my Sheridan bash talk. I literally cringed when I read that. I genuinely don’t have any interest in ever giving that talk again, and the thought of forcing myself to do it one more time makes me greatly unhappy.

Then there are ones that I really enjoy. I really enjoy my Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg talk. Being the contrarian that I am, I love arguing in Stuart’s favor–which is actually pretty easy to do if you really study the subject. I haven’t yet gotten tired of that one. Another one I really enjoy is my Trevilian Station talk, which I haven’t given in a couple of years now. I made one up last year in about half an hour comparing and contrasting Stuart and Hampton that is a lot of fun to give. I gave one today at lunch for the first time on Ully Dahlgren and the so-called “Dahlgren Papers” found on his body when he was killed. That was fun. I pretty much made up the talk as I went, although I had a mental game plan for it when I went into the room.

I actually do that a LOT. Being an experienced trial lawyer, you learn how to speak and think on your feet, and I really enjoy that. I never work from notes at all if I can help it, and I try not to ever read a script. Most times, I am able to speak off the cuff–audiences seem to love that–but it means that I never give the same talk the same way twice in a row. That helps keep it fresh for me, and I can never remember exactly what I’ve said anyway. I am able to remember where my laugh lines are and to pause for them, but for the most part, every talk is made up as I go. Sometimes, though, I do have to read stuff. In order for the Stuart’s ride talk to be effective, it’s pretty much mandatory to read the orders to the crowd, since those orders provide the operational backdrop for the analysis. So, those things I will read. But that’s pretty much it. The rest of the Stuart’s ride talk is then done off the cuff.

There are times when I get really burned out on speaking. I hadn’t done one in a few months before today, so it was okay. I had fun making a circumstantial evidence case to a room full of lawyers, including a judge. I got to show off just a little bit. I particularly love doing the Conference on Leadership in the Civil War held in Middleburg, VA every October. I’ve done that one three times. Middleburg is one of the most affluent communities on earth, and they put the speakers up in these absolutely spectacular private homes. We never even saw the main house the first year–the guest house was as big as our house now. The folks there are great too, and so is the cause. I will always say yes to Middleburg when they ask. The same goes for old pal Ted Alexander’s events in Chambersburg, just because I like working with Ted.

May, on the other hand, will be difficult. I have three CWRT’s in North Carolina in a span of like eight days. That will be exhausting. But, these talks take me to places I’ve never been–the last one is in Duck on the Outer Banks. We’ve never been to the Outer Banks, so we’re going to stay for a few days to recuperate. Last fall, I had to give the Stuart vs. Hampton talk in Raleigh, NC after being up pretty much all night flying from Las Vegas. To say I was exhausted probably is an understatement, and I definitely was not as mentally sharp as I might otherwise want to be. But a commitment is a commitment, and I had agreed to do this. So, I sucked it up and did it. I know it wasn’t the best talk I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t the worst, either. Or there was the time a few years ago when I had Milwaukee and Chicago on back to back nights, while Susan was home in bed really sick with pneumonia. That was not fun. I felt like I had no business being there, but again, a commitment is a commitment, and it would not have been right to leave them high and dry. So, I went.

Speaking gives me an opportunity to meet new people, and to renew contacts with others. Every listener is a potential book buyer, and I am always painfully aware of that. The trips give me an excuse to visit new places. Some are great (North Carolina, New York City) and some aren’t (Kankakee). But, that’s the chance I take every time that I agree to speak to a group. And I know that going in.

All in all, I’m glad that I do this. All things considered, it continues to be a positive experience.

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Since the last post was generated by my participation in an on-line discussion group, and since these groups constitute a big part of my activity in the Civil War world, I thought I would follow that up with some additional thoughts about them.

By way of background, I’ve been involved in the Internet since 1996. My wife has a degree in computer science, and was intrigued by the nascent World Wide Web immediately upon its launch. We got our first dial-up account in 1996, and one of the very first things that I did was to subscribe to the Gettysburg Discussion Group, which was one of the very first of its sort. The GDG is owned by three brothers named Bob, Dennis, and Jack Lawrence, and the Lawrences have always pretty much set the gold standard for on-line discussion groups. Discussions there are normally quite cordial, and there are very few flame wars. The Brothers Lawrence do a fine job of keeping folks in line with firm but diplomatic moderation, and while my participation in the group ebbs and flows with my level of immersion in writing, I’ve been a member for most of the last ten years, although I did take a break for a time. At one time, when I was less busy and more active in the group, I was actually an elected trustee, which was a great honor. Dennis and Jack came to hear my talk to the Kansas City Civil War Roundtable last March, which was a nice surprise.

The biggest problem with the GDG is that its focus is, by definition, quite narrow. It means that the same topics get hashed over and over and over again, until they become ad nauseum. As one very good example, I’ve never found Pickett’s Charge the slightest bit interesting, nor do I care to discuss it or be involved in discussions of it. But, it comes up again and again. Or then there was one member who pretty much monopolized things for a while with inane postings about some ancestor of hers that fought there irrespective of whether anybody gave a damn. I very nearly left over that one.

At the same time, I’ve made lifetime friendships as a result. I can genuinely say that some of the people I’ve met there are some of the very best people I will ever have the honor of calling my friends. Several of them are now my business partners in Ironclad. One of them insisted, quite vigorously, that Susan and I stay with him and his wife when we last visited the L. A. area a few years back. Another friend, whom I first met through the GDG, and who lives in North Carolina, has become like a member of our family, and Susan and I value that relationship a great deal. We look forward to visiting with this person at least once per year a great deal. I met Dave Powell through the GDG. Dave and I have a lot in common, and we’ve become friends. Ironclad will be publishing one of Dave’s books, and Dave’s been a big help with research over the years. As a general rule, until I got overloaded with doing conferences and had to cut back, I ALWAYS enjoyed the GDG musters in Gettysburg, in part due to the fellowship with other people afflicted with this Civil War illness of ours.

In the interest of expanding things a bit, and to replace the Antietam Discussion Group, which imploded a few years back due to the lunacy of the group’s owner, Teej Smith and I started the Civil War Discussion Group, which follows the same format as the GDG, but which doesn’t have the restrictions of a single battle. That group has about 100 stalwart members, one of whom was Brian Pohanka. I’ve enjoyed it a great deal, and we’ve had a couple of terrific musters–one at Chancellorsville and another last May on Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign. I’ve tried to pattern my moderation after the way that the Lawrences moderate the GDG.

I then was enlisted to participate in a forum board group, from which I was inexplicably and unfairly excommunicated by the owner, perhaps because I refused to permit myself to be abused by other members of the group. I’ve never been given a satisfactory or sensible explanation of this by the group owner, and have given up on the idea of receiving one. In truth, I’m not all that upset about it–that particular forum has become the place where bizarre theories about the Battle of Gettysburg are espoused, and the person who espouses them is placed up on a pedestal. My thoughts on these bizarre new interpretations of the battle are well known and need not be repeated here. However, it was through this particular group that I met J. D. Petruzzi and Mike Nugent, and it is responsible for a number of what appear to be lifelong friendships that have grown into business relationships, too.

So, I went along with the formation of a competing new group that turned out to be nothing more than a con job by a master con man. Unfortunately, I put my imprimatur on this con man’s efforts, to my eternal embarrassment and dismay. Once I became aware of the magnitude of the fraud being perpetrated by him, I made the site disappear immediately, and his house of cards came crashing down. From the ashes of that group arose a successor that Susan and I started, the on-line forums version of the Civil War Discussion Group, which now has more than 300 members and is something of which I am quite proud.

I’ve also joined a couple of other e-mail discussion groups, including the one where I did the neo-Confederate bashing the other day.

My point in raising all of this is that, while one ends up kissing a lot of frogs along the way, my experiences with on-line discussion groups have generally been very positive, and they’ve led to some terrific long-term relationships. They also, in a very direct way, led to this blog, as Harry Smeltzer, who is a long-time CWDG member, turned me on to Dimitri Rotov’s blog, which, in turn, inspired me to do this. Thanks, Harry.

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One thing I’ve learned after ten years of very active participation in on-line Civil War discussion groups is that there are a few topics that never, ever lead to anything good, and which should be avoided at all costs. The primary one, of course, is the question of whether the secession of the Southern states in 1861 was illegal. Normally, I avoid that one like the plague, but yesterday, I made the mistake of jumping into that discussion in one of the e-mail groups to which I belong. Big mistake. I used some purely legal analysis to rebut the argument that just because the Constitution does not specifically address the topic does not make it legal.

Today, the following neo-Confederate hooey was posted in response:

“Eric, there is no law against secession; therefore you are going to prosecute the perpetrators? For what crime are you going to prosecute them? If you are indeed a lawyer, then you should know that your saying an action is wrong does not make it so. Many legal minds of the day, both before and after the Civil War stated there was NO LAW against secession. There is none. The writers of the Constitution did not consider the fact. Nobody stood over any of the 13 Colonies with a club and told them they had to agree to accept the Constitution. They were not forced to agree to accept it and they could reject it at any time. It is not ‘Confederate hoey’, thank you very much. It is history. In the end, states really do have rights.

You know, it was people in the role of leadership who thought they could make up their own rules as they went along that led to the Civil War to start with. Do any of you know any facts about the causes and the effects of the American Civil War or are you just talking?”

It bears noting that the author of this wonderful little neo-Confederate rant misquoted me. Nowhere did I write “Confederate hoey.” What I very specifically wrote was “neo-Confederate hooey.” Obviously, there is a significant difference.

Now, it’s my fault for violating my own rule and engaging in this discussion. I accept responsiblity for that bad decision on my part. So, to the extent that I did something stupid by engaging in this discussion, I guess I deserved a response, and perhaps even a neo-Confederate rant in response. However, there are few things that irritate me more than neo-Confederate hooey. These neo-Confederates have an agenda–the Lost Cause, at all costs, including disregard of the historic truth–and have no qualms about letting the truth get in the way of accomplishing that agenda.

I responded the only way I know how, in an equally insulting and snotty way that was intended to remind this person that she doesn’t know as much as she thinks she does:

“I choose not to waste my valuable time arguing subtle nuances of the law with someone who is not a lawyer and has neither the professional training nor experience to do so. I have a busy practice to worry about, a publishing company to run, and a book manuscript to complete. I have no time to waste in engaging in fruitless and eminently frustrating exercises that accomplish nothing but pissing me off.

I likewise choose not to waste my extremely valuable and all too rare free time engaging in an endless debate with you over this issue.

You have your opinion. I have mine. Leave it at that. And yes, if it was up to me, the leaders of the illegal secession movement, most prominently Jefferson Davis, would have been prosecuted for treason.

And, to answer your very insulting question about whether I know anything about the causes of the Civil War, you should be aware that I have spent more than 35 years of my nearly 45 years on this planet engaged in the intensive study of the American Civil War. After a two year break, my eleventh book on the subject is about to go to the printer, with another one due out at the end of June. My books have won awards. My record of Civil War scholarship speaks for itself, and I will not allow you, or any other neo-Confederate espouser of the Lost Cause, to insult me simply because you don’t agree with me. When the duration and intensity of your study, and your record of accomplishment in the field approximates mine, then you will have the privilege of insulting my professional work. Until then, I invite you to keep your opinions to yourself.

As a closing note, Trish is absolutely correct about Texas v. White.

You need not bother responding, unless you really feel the need to, as I will not respond to anything further posted by you about this topic.”

I signed the e-mail with my professional signature–the law firm’s full name, address, etc., that shows my name as a named partner. Now, I fully realize that this was really snotty and probably made me sound like a bit of a pompous ass, but I wanted this neo-Confederate to understand that her little games were not going to work with me, and that I’m not going to be intimidated by these sorts of arguments. It remains to be seen whether this will put this to rest for now, but I continue to fight the neo-Confederate wars every day of my adult life. It will flare up again. Of that, I have no doubt.

It’s kind of like the Bush White House–never let the truth get in the way of a good story or a good justification for doing something that it was going to do no matter what anyway.

In any event, I digress.

My point is that there are few things for which I have less patience and which irritate me more than people who are bound and determined to push their agendas and the truth be damned. I have made the correction and baiting of these people one of my life’s goals, and I usually wait until I know that I have a good point to make that I can support to pounce, and when I do, it’s swiftly and it’s aggressively. I despise these neo-Confederates who wouldn’t see the truth if they tripped over it, and I will continue to do this sort of thing whenever the opportunity presents itself.

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22 Jan 2006, by

Updates

Well, here are a couple of important updates on things discussed here in the last week.

1. I found out today that the maps for Monroe’s Crossroads are, at long last, all completed. The CD-ROM will be sent to Ted Savas tomorrow, and once Ted imports them into the manuscript, we’re off to the printer. That is stupendous news, which makes me feel a lot better about things.

2. J. D. Petruzzi is going to bail me out and take over the Custer project for me. I have every confidence that J. D. will do his usual superb job, and I’ve told him that I will be happy to provide him with copies of anything and everything that I bought while doing the research for this book. This gets me off the hook, assures Brassey’s that they will get a first-rate product, and allows me to continue to focus on the Dahlgren bio, which is something that I have VERY much wanted to do for years.

3. My regular readers are familiar with my rants about university presses, and about my stated lack of enthusiasm for having one publish another one of my books. It is, therefore, with a great deal of irony that I announce to you all I learned this week that Bison Books, a division of the University of Nebraska Press, has agreed to pick up and do a new edition of my 2001 book Glory Enough for All: Sheridan’s Second Raid and the Battle of Trevilian Station, which Brassey’s allowed to go out of print in 2003, over my loud protests, and to my everlasting mystification. It looks like Bison will permit me to add some of the new material that has surfaced in the years since the publication of the book, and that it will, ultimately, be an even better book than it already was. The irony, of course, is not lost on me.

That’s all the news that fit to report today. For a change, it’s all good news.

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A couple of years ago, against my better judgment, I allowed myself to be talked into doing a 45,000 word biography of George Custer for the series of Military Profiles that Brassey’s has been publishing over the course of the past several years. Brassey’s–now known as Potomac Books–came to me and asked me to do this, largely as a result of my prior work on the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, some of which dealt specifically with George A. Custer. I immediately protested, indicating that I believed that, given the tens of thousands of pages devoted to Custer’s life and untimely death, and in light of Jeff Wert’s terrific 1996 biography of Custer, there was really nothing that I could add that hasn’t already been said, and certainly nothing that I could add in such a short book. With only 45,000 words to cover an entire life–and especially a life as full as Custer’s–you certainly can’t go into any detail. At best, it’s a broad overview.

My editor at Brassey’s kept after me about it and they finally wore me down. I agreed to do it, even though I didn’t think it was a good idea. Writing it meant that I would have to spend quite a bit of money buying books to complete the research, and I did just that. It finally came time to start writing, and I had major motivational problems. The truth is that my heart was never in this one. I never wanted to do it in the first place, and to this day, I can’t justify it. I managed to eke out three chapters, and when I got those three chapters done, I was absolutely convinced that I didn’t want to finish the project since I didn’t believe I could add anything worthy of publication. So, I started finding excuses not to work on it. At that, I was quite successful. Almost any excuse was a worthy one–the dog has gas, so that means I can’t work on this. I didn’t want to do it, so I didn’t.

The thing was due for submission last month, and needless to say, I didn’t have anything to submit. I finally came clean with my editor at Brassey’s this week, and we have such a good working relationship that it wasn’t really much of a problem. I’ve been released from the contract and feel much better about things. I’ve been feeling guilty about not finishing the thing, and have been feeling badly about it, but it’s all now in the past, which is a very good. It was another difficult decision for me, as I really do value my relationship with the publisher and was very worried about how the failure to complete the project might impact it. That fear led to me to simply ignore the problem and hope it would go away, and, predictably, it didn’t.

It took an e-mail from my editor to get me to finally deal with this, and I’m now quite glad I did. There does not seem to be any negative impact on the relationship, and I’m glad that this particular problem is now off my plate. It allows me to concentrate on the projects that I really want to do, such as Ulric Dahlgren.

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