Month:

May, 2006

As an author who always has multiple projects going on, each one of which is typically in a different stage of the production process, it can sometimes be difficult to keep all of it straight. Sometimes, I feel like I need a critical path schedule like those used in construction projects, which sets benchmark dates and prioritizes things.

That would, of course, be overkill, but it sometimes feels like it’s that confusing. Here’s an example. At present, I have the following projects going on:

1. Stuart’s Ride: waiting for the book clubs to make their decisions and then to the printer; nothing to do but wait.
2. Retreat from Gettysburg: In copy editing. Will require revisions upon completion (this one is a real challenge, since I have two co-authors).
3. Rush’s Lancers regimental history. Waiting on newly found set of letters; must scan over 100 illustrations and a dozen maps.
4. Dahlgren bio: Ten chapters in rough draft form, three to go. Project is temporarily on hold.
5. New edition of Trevilian Station book: Have to finish putting together driving tour and shoot battlefield photos (I’m doing that on Friday of this week). I will work on the driving tour some yet this evening.
6. Morgan’s Raid: In the research phase. Making progress, but it’s going to be quite a while before I’m ready to begin writing.

That’s not all of it, but you get the idea.

Right now, my number one priority is finishing up that driving tour for the new edition of the Trevilian Station book so I can put that project to bed. That is, in part, why the Dahlgren project is temporarily on hold. The other reason is completing the Lancers project. So, while I’m back to work, I’m kind of all over the road with this stuff.

I had hoped to add new material to the Trevilian book–I’ve had a bunch of good new material surface since the book was published in 2001–but Bison Books will not permit to add anything substantive to the text, only the driving tour of the raid with some photos. That’s disappointing, of course, but at least the book will be back in print. It was a pretty good seller, so I’ve never understood why Brassey’s allowed it to go out of print in the first place, especially considering that it was only a couple of years after the book was published, and they had to remainder a whole bunch of them to permit it to go out of print. When push comes to shove, I’m just happy it’s going to be back in print.

And, on top of everything else (and this does not include my professional responsibilities as lawyer), I have my Ironclad duties to attend to. This evening, I had some bookkeeping to do and an order to pack.

How do I keep it all straight? Honestly, I have no idea. I just know that an author’s work is never, ever done. Even for books that have already been published. ๐Ÿ™‚

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I’m up very early this morning, which is very unusual for a national holiday. The dogs, and in particular, Aurora, were very restless this morning, so much so, in fact, that I figured it would be better all around if I just took them downstairs and let Susan sleep, things would ultimately be better for everyone. Being up this early enabled me to spend a few minutes reflecting on the true meaning of today’s holiday.

In the spring of 1866, a scant year after the end of the Civil War, Henry Welles, a pharmacist from upstate New York, came up with the idea to honor the dead of the recent conflict by decorating their graves. By 1868, Decoration Day was being observed officially throughout the north. In 1971, Congress decreed that the holiday’s name be changed to Memorial Day, which would be celebrated on the final Monday of each May. For many (if not most), it marks the unofficial beginning of summer and provides a day off from work for most of the population.

While many celebrate their day off with cook-outs and the year’s first trip to the swimming pool, it’s important to remember the true meaning of this holiday: honoring the memory of those who gave the last full measure of their devotion to defend the liberty of this country and its people.

My father will be 86 years old in August, meaning that he was 21 in December 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He is a part of what journalist Tom Brokaw rightfully calls the greatest generation, which was that generation of Americans who won World War II. He was employed building warplanes, so he was never drafted. However, two of his brothers served. My uncle Murray was a pharmacist, so he spent most of the war working in a hospital, taking care of wounded men. My uncle Mort was a staff sergeant who commanded an Army Air Corps maintenance crew. He was at Kasserine Pass, and then fought his way up the boot of Italy. He died in 1980, while I was a sophomore in college. During my not-quite nineteen years with him, I only got him to talk about the war once, and then for only a few minutes. It is one of my deep regrets that I never got a chance to record his story for posterity, for it is now lost forever. He gave me my first Civil War books–Bruce Catton’s trilogy on the Army of the Potomac when I was in the fourth grade–and I was always especially close to him.

I also had a brother-in-law who was a career Marine. Joe had been in the Corps for something like eighteen years when he died on active duty in 1996. Joe was a staff sergeant who was about to be promoted to gunnery sergeant. He had served in Panama, Somalia, and in Desert Storm, among other conflicts. His unit was the first to hit the beach in Kuwait City in 1991, and we believe that he may have been exposed to caustic chemicals along the way, because this man, who died at age 36, who was in peak physical condition, and who never smoked a day in his life, was the victim of a very rare and aggressive form of lung cancer that took his life within six months of diagnosis.

These three veterans have touched my life in a real way, and none of them are here for me to thank in person for their sacrifices on my behalf. I regret that they aren’t, but there isn’t much I can do about that. We’re losing World War II veterans at the rate of 1,000 per day, and before long, there won’t be any left. Korean War veterans aren’t far behind, and even Vietnam War vets are now in their fifties and early sixties.

If you know a veteran, please take a moment today and thank him or her for their service and for what they do to safeguard the liberties that we enjoy today. And please remember Abraham Lincoln’s words at the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg in November 1863:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

And here’s to the memory of Sgt. Morris Wittenberg, U.S. Army Reserve, Staff Sgt. Morton L. Wittenberg, U. S. Army Air Corps, and Staff Sgt. Joseph R. Pacitto, USMC. Thank you for everything that you did to ensure the liberty that we enjoy today. Let’s just hope that we still have some civil liberties left when the felon leaves the White House in 2008 (a day that CANNOT come soon enough), and that their sacrifices will still mean something.

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“All history becomes subjective; in other words there is properly no history, only biography,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. Many sneer at such thoughts. Certainly, most academic historians would not agree with this assessment, and I don’t either. In fact, the overwhelming majority of my work has been writing battle narrative, not writing biography.

As my regular readers know, I’ve been working on a special labor of love, a full-length biography of Ulric Dahlgren. Tonight, after nearly ninety days away from it as a result of our having to put one dog to sleep and then bringing a new puppy into the house, I finally got back to working on it. I finally got to finish up the tenth chapter of the book, which required only about two hours of work to complete, and the first draft of which is now finished.

This book is my first attempt at the solo writing of a full-length biography. For years, I’ve been working on a full-length biography of John Buford with a friend, so it’s a collaboration and not a solo project. It’s been a challenge putting meat on these bones, but in order to understand Ulric Dahlgren, and in particular, the fashion in which he met his demise, the context of his short but full and controversial life is critical. If you only look at the last few days of his life–and the controversy that has raged for 140+ years as a result–it’s not possible to place Dahlgren’s life in its proper context.

My objective with this project is to fully tell the story of this fascinating young man’s life, place it in its proper historic context, and then do a thorough analysis of his deeds and flaws, and speculate upon what might have been had he lived, which is always a risky thing to do.

I doubt that this will be the last biography project that I will tackle. I can think of a couple of others that I hope to do at some point, including a biography of Union cavalry General David McMurtrie Gregg, and Brig. Gen. Theodore J. Wint, who spent more than forty years in the Army and whose life is microcosm of the United States Army during the second half of the Nineteenth Century. Both of these men deserve to have the stories of their lives told, as nobody has done so to date (although there’s a bad biography of David Gregg that was self-published by the author in the 1980’s).

At the same time, with yet another new biography of Ulysses S. Grant about to hit the market in a couple of weeks, it’s difficult to avoid the nagging question of whether there’s enough undiscovered material out there to justify the publication of yet another biography of a man whose already had dozens of biographical treatments of his life, some very good indeed, and some not very good at all. Is there anything out there that hasn’t already been turned up to justify continuing to churn out more biographies that add little to the body of knowledge?

I can only hope that, by choosing lesser known figures who nevertheless made an impact, I will actually add something useful to the body of knowledge and literature. I specifically hope that my Dahlgren biography–the only full-length treatment of his life yet attempted–will be considered to be a worthwhile project even if its commercial appeal will be limited.

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Old friend Rick Sauers tipped me off to the existence of ArchiveGrid, a new searchable database of available manuscript collections held at various institutions. For researchers who like to make extensive use of unpublished manuscript materials in their work, this is a truly indispensable tool. While they’re getting things ramped up and doing beta testing, access to the site is free. It will only be free until the end of June, and then it will become a for-pay service. Many thanks to Rick for bringing this extremely valuable tool to my attention.

I had my first chance to check it out last night for the first time. I did multiple searches on ArchiveGrid, looking for manuscripts that are pertinent to my various pending projects. I searched for material on John Hunt Morgan’s Indiana and Ohio Raid of 1863, Ulric Dahlgren, the 6th Michigan Cavalry (I am debating whether to do a regimental history of this unit, and am leaning toward doing one), and finally, the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which is also known as Rush’s Lancers.

Some of you might recall that before we went on vacation, I made a post here, crowing about how I had finally finished my new regimental history of the Lancers after years and years of work, and that I had submitted the manuscript to the publisher. I was celebrating what I thought was the completion of a project that has lasted for more than a decade. Apparently, and to my very great embarrassment, I spoke too soon.

My search on ArchiveGrid last night turned up a complete set of letters by a trooper of the Lancers that I had never seen or heard of previously. This set of letters was by a member of Company K, and was apparently hiding in plain sight. This collection of letters, by a fellow named Henry Inch Cowan, is in the manuscripts collection at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I had gotten some material from Penn earlier in the course of my research, so it never even occurred to me that there might be additional material there, let alone a very large set of letters that I had completely missed.

Fortunately, my contract with the publisher doesn’t call for submission of the manuscript until June 30, so I have just over a month to get this stuff and get it incorporated into the main body of the manuscript. I called my researcher in Philadelphia today, and told him about the urgency of getting this material, and he’s going to get it for me in the next ten days or so. If he does, that will leave me plenty of time to get this stuff incorporated into the manuscript.

After twelve long years of researching this regiment, I’m stunned that there’s a major collection of primary source material out there that I had somehow missed. Fortunately, I found it with sufficient time to permit me to obtain the material and to incorporate it into the manuscript without missing my submission date or otherwise jeopardizing the projected October 31 publication date for the book. All I can say is, “whew!”

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Today marks my second day back at the office after our vacation. I thought that I was pretty much caught up, as I did a lot of work while we were gone (technology makes doing so easy), I’ve been absolutely buried the last two days. I had four different appointments today, meaning that I got very little else done during the day today. I am pretty much caught up, but it means that I’m not making any real progress. That, of course, is the thing that I was dreading while I was gone, and my fears have come to pass.

This week–probably on Thursday night–I will get back to being productive on my Civil War work. Although it’s been since the first week in March since I’ve done anything of any consequence on my biography of Ulric Dahlgren, and Thursday night, it looks like I will finally be able to get back to work. Chasing Aurora was largely a full-time job for the first three months of her stay with us (and she apparently had an accident in the kitchen a little while ago), and with Susan listing books on Amazon for our book-selling business, it’s taken virtually all of my evenings since then watching her.

We’ve come up with a formula that will work that will permit us to switch off nights watching her, and that will give me an opportunity to get back to work. I have to admit that, while the break was nice, I’ve missed being productive, and I am ready to get back to it.

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Well, after two weeks on the road, we got home to Columbus this afternoon about 3:00. Rather than try to drive the nearly eleven hours straight through, we left yesterday and broke up the trip. My original plan was to spend last night in Charlottesville, which is really a beautiful town. However, yesterday was the University of Virginia’s graduation, and there were no rooms to be found anywhere remotely nearby. Instead, we decided to go on to another college town, Lexington, home of VMI and Washington & Lee University.

We found a hotel room and went in search of dinner and a theater to see The DaVinci Code. While driving around Lexington, we had a look at the two college campuses–they make a stark contrast–and then stumbled upon Stonewall Jackson Cemetery. I actually had no intention to doing so, and I definitely wasn’t looking for it. However, having stumbled upon it, I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to go in. We visited Old Blue Light’s grave, and then went on. Unfortunately, it was too late to visit Robert E. Lee and Traveler, so I will have to save that for another trip.

The Outer Banks were just spectacular. We had a great time there–I could easily see spending the rest of my life there without much difficulty. We made some new friends, ate some great food, got a golden retriever puppy fix (thanks, Roy, Charlie and Brunson), flew a kite on the beach, visited all four light houses, climbed two of them, and ate some really terrific sea food. All things considered, it was an incredible trip, even if we did have to cram two weeks’ worth of stuff into Susan’s New Beetle convertible, which is, for all intents and purposes, a two-seat car with a TINY trunk. She’s a packing wizard, and we managed, but I’m still not sure how (I made my first trip to a coin laundromat since college, and remembered why I find them distasteful).

Saturday morning, the last thing we did before we left was to visit the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk, including climbing the Big Hill, as it’s known, to visit the gorgeous art deco monument atop the hill. Living just an hour from Dayton, I’ve been hearing about the Wright Brothers and their feat for as long as I’ve lived in Ohio, so it was a real treat finally seeing the site where they made their fame. I’d already seen one of their flyers at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, so I knew what to expect, but it was moving to see the reproduction of their flyer where it made history.

I’m not happy about being home, and I’m a lot less happy about the prospects of returning to work tomorrow after being gone for two weeks. However, the dogs were thrilled to see us, and we were even more thrilled to see them after two long weeks. Aurora has grown a great deal while we’ve been gone, and she’s no longer the tiny puppy she was when we left. She’s almost ready to start making the switch to adult food from her puppy food. It seems like just yesterday that we brought her home.

The only good thing about being home is that I will be getting back to work on Dahlgren in earnest this week for the first time since the first week of March. After fourteen days of sleeping in bad hotel beds, we’re REALLY looking forward to our Tempurpedic tonight. So, I guess that means being home is a mixed bag. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Well, we have one more full day here before heading back to Ohio. We’re leaving on Saturday morning, and are planning on breaking up the trip by spending Saturday night in Staunton, VA. We will drive back to Columbus from Staunton on Sunday. While I REALLY miss our dogs, I really don’t want to go home. I could easily stay here, perhaps for years.

On Tuesday, we met up with Drew Pullen, who is a local historian who has done a great deal of work on the Civil War in the eastern portion of North Carolina. Drew is a retired school teacher who manages a bank branch on Hatteras Island. There’s probably nobody who knows more about this than Drew. We spent much of our time on the 1861 naval campaign that led to the fall of Forts Clark and Hatteras on Hatteras Island. We did a little on Burnside’s campaign, but we ran out of time.

Dare County, which is the county where most of the Outer Banks lie, has spent a great deal of money trying to promote Civil War tourism. It has erected some absolutely magnificent monuments reflecting the county’s role in the Civil War. They’re very impressive…nicer by far than one finds on some of the battlefields owned by the National Park Service. They include etchings of contemporary illustrations of events, and they’re quite handsome. All of them contain text on both sides.

After Burnside captured Hatteras Island, he sent the 20th Indiana regiment to the far north end of the island, where it established its camp in an effort to provide an early warning system in case the Confederates tried to re-take the island. The Hoosiers established their camp at a place called Chicamacomico. When Confederate infantry advanced, the Hoosiers bugged out, racing nearly twenty miles back to the main Union camp, running in 90+ degree heat and high humidity. The event is called the Chicamacomico Races to this day. There are several handsome monuments along the course of their march, and it’s an extremely amusing episode.

On Tuesday night, I spoke to the Outer Banks Civil War Roundtable. The group meets at a beautiful country club on the northern end of Bodie Island. The group has about 50 members, which is quite impressive for a group that’s only a year old. Their meeting format, however, is unique–like nothing I have ever seen. They have a cocktail hour, followed by a cold cut buffet dinner. There is no business meeting at all. I was introduced and then started speaking. They also take a break in the middle of the talk. I REALLY didn’t like that–it interrupted my flow, and was just plain strange. In truth, I think it’s because some of the members really needed another drink to make it through the talk. ๐Ÿ™‚

In truth, I really enjoyed the group, and I would be happy to come back and speak here again if they ever were to ask me to do so.

We’ve also visited three of the four lighthouses. We stopped at the Bodie Island light house, and climbed to the top of both the Hatteras and Currituck Beach light houses. Hatteras is 250 steps to the top, and the winds were howling when we got up there. Currituck was very different–it’s only 218 steps up–and there was no wind to speak of when we got to the top. I doubt that we will get to see the Ocracoke light house on this trip–it’s a full day to go down there, and since tomorrow is our last day here, we don’t want to tie up the entire day that way. We are going to visit the Wright Brothers Memorial tomorrow–our trip would not be complete without a visit there.

See everyone once we get home.

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15 May 2006, by

The Outer Banks

Greetings from Kill Devil Hills in the Outer Banks.

We had quite a day today. We visited the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island–got to see the tiny earthen fort there–and then drove the 50+ miles down the Outer Banks to the Cape Hatteras light house. We climbed up the thing–162 feet with 258 steps to get up there–and the wind was howling at nearly 40 mph when we got to the top–a line of thunderstorms was approaching, and it was BLOWING. Needless to say, we were plenty tired and feeling rubbery legged by the time we got down. The National Park Service ranger on duty up there took a photo of us with the digital camera. Hopefully, I can Susan to post that photo in the next day or so. What a view, though. It’s easy to see why people fall in love with it down here. I could easily see myself living here for the rest of my life.

Tomorrow is Civil War day. The local expert on the Civil War in the Outer Banks, Drew Pullen, is giving me a tour of the sites associated with the 1862 Burnside Expedition, and then tomorrow night, I speak to the Outer Banks Civil War Roundtable. The group is only about a year old, and it already has nearly 50 members. It sounds to me like this group is off to a great start, and I was very honored to learn that I’m the first author that they’ve brought in from the outside to speak. I think it’s going to be a great day.

I will report on the Civil War tour later in the week.

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12 May 2006, by

Stuff

Today is the 142nd anniversary of the death of Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart, who received a mortal wound at the Battle of Yellow Tavern on May 11, 1864. He was taken to Richmond, where he died the next day. When Robert E. Lee heard that Stuart was dead, he said, “He never brought me a wrong piece of information” and then turned away so nobody would see the depths of his emotional response. For once, Lee’s icy exterior came down after hearing of the loss of a much beloved subordinate. Stuart was the quintessence of the Civil War cavalryman. He had a real gift for scouting and screening, and brought verve and dash to an otherwise mundane job. However, I often think that the march of technology–and the corresponding shift in the primary role of the cavalry–eventually would have left Stuart behind. I tend to think that he died at just the right moment, forever young, dashing, and heroic, and before the bloom came off the rose as a result of being beaten by the Yankees. Nevertheless, Stuart was perhaps the greatest of all American cavalrymen, and I would have been remiss had I not noted his passing.

I spoke to the Cape Fear Civil War Roundtable here in Wilmington last night. I had a very large turnout, which included old friend Horace Mewborn, who drove down from his lovely home in New Bern just to see us and to hear my talk. I’ve now been the May speaker for this group for four of the last five years. It’s a great excuse for us to visit a part of the country we dearly love and also gives us a chance to catch up with some old friends along the way. If only I could find a way to support myself here in the style to which we’ve grown accustomed…..

We spent a good morning at the beach today, and will again tomorrow. Sunday, it’s off to the Outer Banks.

To borrow a line from a favorite Jimmy Buffett song, the weather is here, wish you were beautiful. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Greetings from Kure Beach, NC. We arrived here this afternoon. Kure Beach is the town where Fort Fisher is located, and the little inn where we’re staying is part of the northernmost reaches of Fort Fisher. It was certainly fought over during the Union assaults on Fort Fisher. It’s very cool being able to say that we’re sleeping on a battlefield, even if it has been completely obliterated. We will be here until Sunday morning, when we head for the Outer Banks. I’m speaking to the Cape Fear CWRT on Thursday night.

I spoke to the Raleigh Civil War Roundtable last night. It was a good talk, the first time I’ve done one on Monroe’s Crossroads. One fellow came up to me before the talk and handed me two small boxes of slides taken during an Army staff ride on the battlefield in 1994. He had no real use for them, and thought I might like to have them. He gave them to me as a gift. Fortunately, the AV guy was still at the North Carolina Museum of History, and we were able to use the slides in my talk, even though I was seeing almost all of them for the first time along with the audience. It made things interesting, to say the least.

The weather is not good. It’s cool and very cloudy and never got above 70 today, certainly not beach weather. However, the worst day at the beach is still significantly better than the best day at the office. That’s how I’m looking at it…..

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