June, 2006

Saturday is the 143rd anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. I don’t mean to downplay the anniversary of the battle. It’s obviously a landmark event that’s more than worthy of commemoration. That much is beyond dispute.

The anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg has pretty much taken on a life of its own over the years. They started holding an annual reenactment event near the battlefield each year, and that’s what really triggered the insanity. Now, mind you, Gettysburg is a small town, perhaps 7500 permanent residents. It has an uncommon number of restaurants and hotels due to the tourist trade, but each year, tens of thousands of people descent on this little town for the anniversary and for the reenactment.

When that happens, there are no parking spaces. There are no hopes of getting a table at a restaurant. There are long–ridiculously long–lines most places. The battlefield itself is jam-packed with people. Trying to park at a popular spot like the top of Little Round Top–forget it. Not a chance.

I’ve been there on the anniversary twice, both times for booksigning events. The first time, we were fortunate enough to stay in a private residence that is on the South Cavalry Field, and which played a role in the battle. It is about four miles from the center of town, and on the morning of July 4, which was a Sunday that year (1998), the traffic was backed up for more than four miles. It was ridiculous. We went south to go north in order to get away from the traffic.

After the second time, I swore that I would never go there for the anniversary event again, and I meant it. I have absolutely no interest in being there at that time. I can’t deal with the crowds or the heat, and I want to be able to get a table at a restaurant with less than a three hour wait. I couldn’t possibly care less about the reenactment, so I have no desire to be there to see that.

I can certainly appreciate the fact that folks feel strongly enough about going and being there for the anniversary events, but no thanks. I will sit this one out. Enjoy the crowds, the heat, and the lines.

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Yes, I know I said I wasn’t going to post anything today….

However, I couldn’t resist this. After the horrible news about Hunterstown, it’s nice to be able to bring you some good battlefield preservation news. From the Charlottesville Daily Progress newspaper:

Battlefield quashed as cell tower site

By Megan Rowe / Daily Progress staff writer
June 26, 2006

TREVILIANS – To Steward Hottinger, the offer from Community Wireless Structures III LLC sounded promising.

The company was going to pay him an increasing sum during the next 35 years to build a 199-foot-tall cell phone tower on a stretch of his property off Louisa Road.

The first year, he and his wife, Mary, would have gotten $14,400. Eventually, the amount would have been about $33,311. The 75-year-olds hoped the money would help their three children and six grandchildren.

But the tower never became a reality for the Hottingers. Turns out the property that looked so promising to Community Wireless was also home to a bloody Civil War battle.

Roughly 1,700 soldiers died in the Battle of Trevilian Station, which was fought on the property now owned by Hottinger. Although the property is already home to two electrical poles, Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation members were concerned that the higher cell phone tower would be more noticeable. Hottinger’s property is located near the battlefield foundation’s property, but “nothing on that side of the road is owned by them,” he said.

Members of the battlefield foundation did not want to comment.

The proposal “went to a neighborhood meeting,” Louisa County Director of Community Development Darren Coffey said. “It got lambasted in the neighborhood meeting, and it got withdrawn before it ever made it to the development review committee.”

The development review committee is a Planning Commission subcommittee that makes recommendations before the proposal goes before the Planning Commission, Coffey explained. Then applications go before the county’s Board of Supervisors.

Tam Murray, a managing member of Community Wireless, said the company is instead pursuing a site on Poindexter Road and is discussing coverage with Cingular and T-Mobile.

“We want to develop a site in that vicinity that provides coverage to the carriers,” he said. “It just seemed to make sense to pursue a different site, given the controversial nature of that location.”

But Dovetail Cultural Resource Group LLC disagreed with the battlefield foundation’s concerns. The group did a cultural resource survey and noted that “the tower will be difficult to see from the critical points of the battlefield.”

Such concerns aren’t uncommon, though. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources must evaluate all potential cell phone towers and forward a recommendation to the Federal Communications Commission, said Ethel Eaton, who manages DHR’s office of review and compliance.

The DHR decides if the tower will affect historic property and if so, whether it will have an adverse effect.

“It’s a decision of the federal agency whether they want to go forward with the adverse effect or not,” Eaton added. “Obviously, we would protest a little if they decided to tear down Monticello to build a tower, but we only have three choices to give.”

While the county currently doesn’t require a DHR recommendation before applications go to the development review committee, “I think as the zoning administrator, I’m going to start requiring it,” Coffey said. “I think from the county’s standpoint, we want them to have all their ducks in a row before they submit it.”

Parts of Trevilians are cell phone dead zones. But “sticking a 199-foot tower on historic property isn’t the way to do it,” Coffey added.

Steward Hottinger, however, is still upset that he will not get the additional income from the tower. “Anything historical seems to have more power than common sense.”

“We don’t get a pension,” added Hottinger, who used to do vehicle body work. “Our whole life has been here. … We’ve made a living. I’m not complaining about that. But this would’ve been a nice little income for us.”

Contact Megan Rowe at (434) 978-7267 or

This tower would have been placed pretty much right in the center of the first day’s battlefield at Trevilian Station. Much of the land in this sector of the battlefield is pristine, so having a hideous cellular tower there would really have been a blight on an otherwise beautiful battlefield. Good riddance, if you ask me.

While it’s certainly not on the scale of the catastrophe at Hunterstown, every little preservation like this one helps……

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I put in a couple of good hours on Dahlgren tonight. My chapter on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid is now at 6900 words, and I still have a LOT of material left to go before I feel like it’s done. My guess is that it will exceed 10,000 words when it’s all said and done. It feels really good to get back to it. I’m re-energized and finally back in the groove. I think that I will be able to finish this eleventh chapter in a week or so. Once it’s done, I have two more chapters and a couple of appendices to go, and then, at long last, the first draft of the Ulric Dahlgren biography will be complete.

I won’t be able to work on it again until Thursday. Tomorrow is Susan’s and my 14th wedding anniversary, and even though it’s a week night, we’re going to go have a nice dinner. Wednesday night will be a lot of fun. One of my clients is a local theater company called the Shadowbox Cabaret. Imagine Saturday Night Live at its best, only with a killer in-house band instead of visiting bands. Wednesday night, in a special appearance, Garrett Morris of SNL fame will be performing with the Shadowboxers, and we’re going with a bunch of friends. It’s going to be a great time and great way to celebrate our anniversary.

See everyone on Thursday.

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As a student of cavalry operations, I pride myself on visiting and learning about obscure and out of the way cavalry battlefields. I’ve been to some extremely obscure places in my day.

One of my very favorite Civil War cavalry battlefields has always been the little gem of a cavalry battlefield at Hunterstown, about six miles north of Gettysburg. On July 2, 1863, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s division, marching for Gettysburg, ran into the rear guard of Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry brigade at Hunterstown, and a nasty little fight evolved from this meeting engagement. Brig. Gen. George Custer led an impetuous charge, and was nearly killed and then captured when his horse was shot out from under him and then fell on him, pinning him. Only a heroic gallop by his orderly saved him from capture.

The Hunterstown battlefield was almost completely pristine until a huge and horrifically ugly power station was built on a portion of it about five years ago. As if that wasn’t bad enough, on my most recent visit to Gettysburg, I learned that the entire battlefield–a small but beautiful gem–is in dire danger of being turned into nasty little cheesebox houses. From today’s issue of the Hanover Evening Sun:

History lost forever


Evening Sun Editor

The big white barn stood as silent sentinel for more than 140 years.

But time had taken its toll. Only the foolishly brave would have followed in the footsteps of Gen. Custer’s troopers, out across the rotting timbers to the bales of hay still stacked near the second-story windows where the Michigan men waited to ambush the Rebel horsemen.

The massive Reliant Energy generating station looms in background, but it was still easy enough, in the middle of these pristine farm fields, to imagine it was July 2, 1863. Surrounded by open space and pastoral silence, it was easy to hear the boom of cannons and the rattle of carbines.

It was here that George Custer, a general for just three days, was nearly killed and showed his true colors as a commander. Here, in a particularly vicious clash along the Hunterstown Road, his Michigan cavalrymen helped decide the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg.

And then it was gone.

Without warning, the historic Felty barn was torn down this month, just a few weeks before a battlefield tour that last year drew about 300 people to this little-known crossroads.

“That just takes the wind out of you,” said National Park Service ranger-historian Troy Harman, who has been studying the battle and working with preservationists to save at least some portion of the field. “I feel like a prize fighter who’s been staggered.”

The Felty barn may seem a minor casualty in the battle for historic preservation. Within a decade, most of the Hunterstown battlefield will disappear under a 2,000-home development approved for the area.

But there is still hope some portion of the field can be saved, and the old barn was the centerpiece of the battle, a symbol of the rearguard action fought by preservationists to save Hunterstown before it is too late.

Saving the farm

Posted near the old barn is a sign that reads: “Dan and Leo Keller, Adams County Conservation District, Farmer of the Year 1994.”

But much of the farm, owned by J. Felty during the Civil War, will become part of developer Rick Klein’s Gettysburg Commons.

Leo Keller doesn’t want to comment on the demise of his historic barn. The building was already falling down, he says, and he just finished the job.

Preservationists say he could have gotten an easement, grants to shore up the falling structure.

But Keller says while lots of folks made noise about saving the barn, no one ever actually came by with an offer to fix it up for him.

The preservationists say they tried. The trouble, they say, is that too many longtime locals take their historic heritage for granted. It’s a battle waged across central Pennsylvania between the reality of local agricultural economics and dreams of a national shrine to America’s collective past. So it’s no surprise that much of their support comes from Civil War and historical groups across the country.

Jackie Volkhen, of Grand Rapids, Mich., heard about the barn’s demise in an e-mail from Roger and Laurie Harding, newcomers to Hunterstown who bought the historic Tate farm four years ago and have since started a local preservation group.

Volkhen and her husband, John, are re-enactors who come to Gettysburg at least a couple of time a year and hope someday to move there.

“I was just horrified,” she says. “How much history is in that barn that’s gone now.”

She pauses before adding, “I suppose when you live in a place, you grew up there, you think, ‘Ah, that’s not a big deal.”

It wasn’t until a few years ago that the Volkhens learned of the role their local Michigan heroes played at Hunterstown from a fellow re-enactor. These days, a Hunterstown visit on the anniversary of the battle is the highlight of their annual pilgrimages.

Volkhen says she gets goose bumps when she walks the battlefield. “I get a profound sadness, that someone might have died where I’m standing. It might have been one of our Michigan boys,” she says. “I’m sad that the story is so little known.”

If more people understood what happened at Hunterstown, she says, maybe the battlefield could be saved.

Earning his spurs

Like most battles, exactly what happened at Hunterstown is surrounded with controversy.

This much is certain: Twenty-three year old George Armstrong Custer led a seemingly suicidal charge of a few dozen men down the Hunterstown Road against an enemy who was behind cover and outnumbered him.

Hemmed in by the fences on either side of the road, the troopers could only charge four abreast, a perfect target for the Rebels lined up at the Gilbert farm on the ridge to the south.

Dressed, as one of his men said, like a “circus rider gone mad,” and flashing his saber made of Toledo steel. The Boy General had his horse shot from under him and narrowly escaped death or capture when one of his men hoisted him onto his own horse as the Union troopers scurried back to the Felty farm less than a mile away.

Some historians see at Hunterstown the reckless bravery that would eventually get Custer killed at the Little Big Horn.

But ranger-historian Harman sees the battle a little differently. It was here that Custer really earned his general’s spurs.

It was the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Union forces were worried about an attack on the right flank at Culp’s Hill. The cavalry had been ordered to scout the area north of the hill in search on Confederate troops.

Rebel cavalry commanded by Gen. Wade Hampton had been spotted at Hunterstown, moving south, and it was Custer’s job to find out what lay behind them.

Harman says Custer planned a careful trap.

He hid men in the barn and in the fields across the road. Behind the barn, out of sight of the Rebels, Union artillery unlimbered and got ready for the bloody work ahead.

Custer understood the impetuosity of cavalrymen; Harman says he knew if he attacked, the Rebel horsemen wouldn’t be able to resist the challenge and would chase him back down the Hunterstown Road into an ambush.

He was right.

Confederate private Wiley C. Howard remembered what happened next:

“Our command had a thrilling experience and while charging a body of cavalry down a lane leading by a barn, ran into an abuscade of men posted in the barn who dealt death and destruction upon us. Within five minutes some four or five officers were killed or wounded and about fifteen men were slain or wounded.”

Casualties were relatively light – 22 Union cavalrymen, five officers and an unknown number of enlisted men on the Confederate side killed, wounded or missing.

But Harman says the battle was important because it kept the attention of both sides focused on the northern end of the battlefield when the crucial struggle was to the south, at Little Round Top and the Peach Orchard.

The cavalry action further delayed and weakened Confederate attacks on Culp’s Hill. It also delayed the redeployment of Union cavalry to the south, leaving the Union left flank unprotected on July 2.

Harman likes to call Hunterstown, four miles north of Gettysburg, the “north cavalry field,” following the pattern of the east and south cavalry fields. He sees the seemingly separate cavalry actions from Hanover to Fairfield as unified elements, part of the big picture of the Battle of Gettysburg.

“In all of these actions, Union cavalry buffered key Union positions in four directions of the compass,” he wrote in a recent article. “Each site is equally essential to accurately portraying Gettysburg as the most famous battle for human freedom in American History.”

Eyeing opportunity

Gettysburg developer Rick Klein sees economic opportunity in the fields around Hunterstown – not just for himself but for Adams County schools and communities.

He sees opportunity for history, too.

Called Gettysburg Commons for now, the development will market itself to “active adults” without kids who will swell the tax base without crowding the schools.

And the development will be marketed with an eye on history. Streets will have Civil War names and the 25,000-30,000-foot clubhouse will house a display on the battle of Hunterstown.

“The area’s going to develop. You can’t just shut the doors and block the highways,” Klein says. “But this is very positive growth.”

Homes will be priced from the low 3’s, Klein says, and will offer working couples royal amenities like the clubhouse and outdoor ballroom. Groundbreaking on the first phase, near Routes 15 and 394, is anticipated for later this year, but it will be at least four or five years before the Hunterstown battle area is developed, he said.

Klein has already agreed to extra screening in certain critical areas and to install a wayside exhibit at the Confederate position near the Gilbert farm. Still, he would only give the state Historical and Museum Commission approved plan a “C or a D.” Klein says he’s hoping for an A in preserving the battlefield, which lies outside the National Park Boundary.

Harman – speaking for preservationists and not the National Park Service – says he hopes Klein will make three additional concessions critical to the integrity of the battlefield.

Preservationists hope development will stop short of the artillery positions on the Tate-Felty ridge. A couple of hundred feet away, at the road, they’d like to see a turnout and interpretive marker at the center of the Union line.

Finally, moving the buffer of trees from 50 to 150 feet away on the east side of the Hunterstown Road would preserve the frontage of the Michigan cavalrymen and save the central part of the battlefield.

Klein says he’s willing to consider the changes, if he and his engineers are convinced of their feasibility and importance.

He’s also willing to talk about a monument to Custer, for which the Michigan re-enactors are already raising funds.

“What they’re going to get at the end of the day,” he promises, “is going to better than they ever expected.”

Preservationist Harding says she is appreciative and hopeful, noting Klein’s company contacted the Hardings about a monument to Custer and the trooper who saved his life on the Hunterstown battlefield.

“We hope he takes into consideration that is a battlefield and people did die there,” she says. “I have to trust his word and hope he follows through.”

This is some of the very worst news I’ve heard in a long time. This gorgeous little pristine battlefield is about to be lost forever, which makes me terribly sad. All lost for a few bucks. How very depressing indeed that years of preservation efforts, led by Dean Shultz, failed so miserably here (although it’s not for trying by Dean; he did all he could). While I pretty vigorously disagree with most of Troy Harman’s interpretation of the fight, I do give him credit for focusing attention on this little gem of a battlefield (he calls it North Cavalry Field, a name I think is not only very appropriate, but also very fitting), and I had hoped that his efforts might help to save the field. Sadly, I was wrong. Even if the developer does everything that he’s been asked to do, and a completely needless monument to Custer is erected, the battlefield still will have forever lost its integrity, and that is horrible.

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I wanted to give everyone an update as to the status of the book on Stuart’s Ride during the Gettysburg Campaign that I did with J. D. Petruzzi.

Originally, the book was supposed to have been published by now. We had hoped and expected that it would have been out by now, or at least that was the plan. However, the History and Military Book Clubs were evaluating the book, and that process took an unreasonably long period of time, something like two months. That obviously trashed the time line for the release of the date, and meant that we missed the 143rd anniversary event commemorating Corbit’s Charge in Westminster, MD this weekend. We had originally hoped that the book would be out in time for us to sign books there. Unfortunately, that didn’t come to pass.

The good news, though, is that the book clubs have apparently FINALLY finished their reviews and the book goes to the printer tomorrow. That means that in six weeks or so, we will have books. Stay tuned. More to follow…..

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The most recent issue of Blue & Gray magazine featured a re-interpretation of Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth’s charge and death on July 3, 1863 after the repulse of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. The author, a licensed battlefield guide, has been working on this theory for years, and I’ve been waiting to see and read an elaboration of it for a long time. So, so far as that goes, I was very pleased to finally see the theory spelled out in black and white.

Now, this is a topic that I know a little bit about. Although it’s been nearly ten years since I’ve worked on it in any detail, my first book dealt with Farnsworth’s Charge and death in some depth. I had to familiarize myself with the sources, and I’ve retained an interest in the topic over the years. Also, once my book was published, some new/additional sources have surfaced, such as the only known account of the charge by William Wells of the 1st Vermont, who was later awarded a Medal of Honor for his role in the charge. A few months ago, I purchased a previously unknown letter about Farnsworth’s Charge by Capt. William Graham, the maternal nephew of Maj. Gen. George G. Meade that provides important details that nobody had ever seen or used in any other account of the charge. I intend to make use of it in a new project that J. D. Petruzzi and I are working on, and which I will elaborate upon here soon. It will be the first time that this letter has ever been used.

I wish I could count the number of times that I’ve been asked about this theory and about the merits of it. I’ve tried hard to stay out of the fray, in part because I’ve had some personal issues with the proponent of the theory over the years. I would often say, when asked, “my mother taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all, and my silence should tell you everything that you need to know.”

Having finally seen the actual theory and read it in detail, J. D. and I came to the conclusion that we could no longer remain silent about it. We feel that the public is being misled, and we cannot permit that to happen. Consequently, we have spent most of the last week composing a refutation of the theory–the proponent of the theory seeks to move these events nearly a half mile from where they actually occurred, and also hopes to re-interpret the idea of who actually killed Farnsworth and when during the charge he fell. We’ve pretty much finished it, and the folks we’ve asked to read it have told us that the evidence that we have adduced–not the least of which is a newly-discovered 1890 map prepared by the War Department–completely refutes the theory.

We will be submitting it to Blue & Gray this upcoming week. We hope that the whole thing will be published, but it’s nearly 5,000 words in length, and neither of us would be surprised if it’s edited substantially. If it is, we will find an appropriate forum for it, even if it means publishing it on this website in its full text.

I really wish I could understand the reasons why people feel that they need to concoct new intrepretations of events the way this particular person has done. If there were room for doubt, I could, perhaps understand. However, the evidence in this particular instance is nearly overwhelming, and I can’t help but wonder what the motivations are for the proponent under such circumstances. This theory’s been kicking around for a number of years, and most of the knowledgeable licensed battlefield guides reject it for the reasons I’ve stated here. So, too, do most of the National Park Service historians.

We will keep everyone posted.

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I’ve been involved in on-line discussion groups about the Civil War since 1996. We got our first Internet access that year, and Susan discovered the Gettysburg Discussion Group for me. The GDG is the oldest, and probably largest, of the on-line discussion groups. It’s the granddaddy of them all. I signed up, and have been a member for most of the intervening decade. As the years passed, I started my own group along with old friend Teej Smith.

We started as an e-mail discussion group. I am the co-moderator of that group, although I tend to leave much of the day-to-day moderation to Teej. The e-mail group is very small, by our choice. It has only about 100 members, of whom probably 30 are active participants. We’ve kept it mostly to those whom we want to be involved, and nobody can join without my approval. It’s still an active, ongoing group.

The e-mail group eventually morphed into a second discussion site. In 2004, we launched forum boards also. I pretty much run the forum boards myself, although Susan is a huge help to me. The forum boards have well over 300 members, and there’s actually not much overlap in the memberships of the e-mail group and the forum boards. That means that we rarely have repeated discussions, which is great.

I’ve also participated in another couple of similar forums over the years. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. I’ve also seen a lot of tendencies.

Every group seems to have a real “know-it-all”. One group has the worst offender of all. To protect the guilty, I will call him Fred for these purposes. Now, I know Fred personally. One-on-one, or in very small groups, he’s actually a good guy. He’s a great guy to sit down with and have a meal, quite charming and a good conversationalist. However, Fred’s got a real problem. He has a REAL need to be the center of attention. He combines that with an enthusiastic embrace of every new off-the-wall theory to come down the pike. If it’s a new theory, it must be right.

That’s in part because Fred feels the need to develop new theories of his own in order to remain in the limelight. So, he spouts off with these bizarre and unsupportable theories that real experts laugh at because they’re so off the wall. And when someone has the temerity to challenge him–to call him on his BS, in other words–he responds one of two ways. He will either deliver a sermon about his decades-long journey of self-discovery of the truth of what happened, and will then congratulate himself on how great his scholarship is and point out that everyone else is obviously on a lower plane since they can’t see the Truth.

His other standard response is to adopt an extremely insulting and condescending tone that stops just short of being a flagrant personal attack, dress it up in a veil of trumped-up courtesy, and then wait for the recipient to be offended. It’s obviously a calculated thing, because it happens all the time. Then, when the poor unenlightened fool responds angrily, he takes on the role of the martyr with a hurt tone. To make things worse, Fred’s got a group of sycofants who will defend him, even if he is being rude and insulting. Why? Because the angry recipient of one of Fred’s broadsides had the gall to respond in a less then courteous fashion.

It’s pretty much akin to the kid who starts a fight on the playground and then steps back to watch the chaos that he or she has created without so much as throwing a punch himself or herself. It must be terribly rewarding to know that you’ve created such chaos, and then to step back and enjoy it. Fred’s a master of it, and it simply evades my understanding why (a) people tolerate him and his tactics and (b) they rush to defend and believe his nonsense when it’s just that: nonsense. I don’t get it.

I’ve always tried to remain as hands-off as possible while moderating. I typically won’t interject myself unless I absolutely have to, and then it’s with great reluctance. I’m very fortunate to have a group that knows the rules, and generally keeps to them. I’ve only ever had to excommunicate a couple of people in all the years I’ve done this, and I’m quite proud of that. Being a moderator is one of the most thankless jobs I can think of, so I’m especially proud of the communities that we have forged. For the most part, we all like each other, and there are almost never problems like the ones created by Fred.

On-line discussion groups can be a great place to share information and ideas if the rules are followed and if you’re fortunate enough not to have a Fred to foist his nonsense on everyone and then insult everyone who doesn’t buy into it. Then, it can be a thoroughly unpleasant thing indeed.

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As promised, today I will tackle some the mechanics of how I write. No, I don’t mean noun, verb, adverb, preposition. What I mean is how I get to finished product.

By way of background, my style has always been to permit the soldiers to tell their own stories in their own words wherever possible. I therefore often see my role as narrator, connecting their stories in the proper factual context, so that the whole thing makes sense and is historically correct.

Also, as my regular readers know, I am a lawyer. I write pretty much all day every day. Due to the nature of what I do, I rarely have the luxury of spending hours and hours laboring over a single paragraph. Instead, we have to get stuff done, often promptly and quickly, due to deadlines and budgetary constraints. Finally, I have a very short attention span, too short to be able to labor over a single paragraph for hours on end. Instead, my preferred method has always been to get things down on paper–a complete draft–and then to go through multiple revisions to tweak it. My book on Sheridan’s Trevilian Raid went through about twenty drafts because of this.

I start with an outline. Because I know what I want to say, the outline is not terribly detailed, and is just really there to remind me to make sure that everything gets included. I then build a baseline of narrative. For purposes of illustration, we can use what I’ve done on the Dahlgren manuscript the last two nights. Ully Dahlgren’s death triggered a tremendous controversy, so it’s extremely well documented, probably more so than the death of any other colonel of the war, save perhaps Elmer Ellsworth. Consequently, I have a huge amount of material on the subject, so figuring out what to use is a critical piece of the puzzle.

The baseline is the basic facts. For this chapter, I used two sources to craft the baseline: volume 33 of the OR, and the memoir of Ulric’s life by his father. They mesh together well enough that I have assembled the basic facts. Next comes the process of incorporating additional materials to flesh it out. Having selected those things that I want to use, I plug stuff in, making sure that there are proper transitions, and that the additional material does not break up the flow of the narrative and makes sense where it’s been added.

When that’s done, and an entire draft is complete, then I begin tweaking and revising. My first drafts are decent, but they always need work. I will print it out, grab different colored pens, and then start going through the manuscript, marking changes. I use a different color of ink for each complete pass at the manuscript so that I can easily tell when I made the change. Once I’m done–usually three passes–I will then sit at the computer and plug in the changes. I will then print it out one more time, and then go through it the same way once or twice more. At the end of that process, I typically am completely incapable of seeing anything else wrong or that needs work.

When I reach that point, I then bring in my network of friends who read stuff for me. They will read it, mark up the draft and then send it back. Using my author’s discretion, I decide what of those suggestions to use or not use, but I typically end up making over 90% of the suggested changes, and usually 100% of the suggestions to correct factual errors (yes, we all do make them). Once I’ve gotten the last set of feedback, I take one last pass at it, and then it’s finished.

It’s a cumbersome process, but it works for me. I’ve actually learned to short-cut the process a lot over the years. The Monroe’s Crossroads book only went through about seven drafts instead of the twenty-four that Trevilian went through. By the time it leaves my hands as a finished product, I’ve been through it so many times that I can’t see anything more, but it does not leave my hands until I am satisfied that it’s the best product I can produce, and that it’s factually correct and accurate.

So, that’s the process. Like legislation and sausage making, it’s not a pretty thing to watch, but hopefully, the final product is worth the bother. 🙂

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In a comment to last night’s post, Charles Bowery asked, “You may have done this before, but for the benefit of the members of your fan club who also write, could you do an entry describing your work methods? How much time you spend daily, how you set up your space, how you use technology/notes, etc.” Good questions, Charles. Interestingly, I had already thought of addressing these questions on my own, and was intending to do so. I’m going to break this up into a couple of pieces, so the first part will run tonight and the rest tomorrow night. Tonight, I will address the logistical issues that Charles mentioned in his comment, and tomorrow night, I will address the actual mechanics of how I go about writing.

When I’m in writing mode, I try to write at least two hours at a time, at least three nights per week. That’s about the minimum time for me to be reasonably productive, and I need to sustain it in order to develop some momentum and make substantial progress toward the completion of the project. I try to write between three and five pages of new material each night when I do write. I find that’s a good benchmark, as it covers the actual writing as well as the sourcing work that I have to do. Anyone who’s familiar with my work knows that I’m pretty fanatical about footnoting, and I also like to include substantive material in footnotes, and all of that takes time.

How do I set up my space? That’s easy. I do virtually all of my writing on my laptop. I haven’t written a major project on a desktop computer in years. That way, even though I am working very intensely on what I’m doing, I can still do it in the same room with Susan and the dogs, and I have the TV for just a little bit of distraction. I need a little bit of distraction to be able to concentrate, which is why I firmly believe that I have a mild but undiagnosed case of ADD.

I work on the couch in our family room. All around me are piles of books and file folders of research material. I also have a nifty little rolling book cart that sits across the family room from me, and which serves to store the material that is pertinent to the specific portion of the project that I’m working on. The end table next to me is typically pretty piled up with research material, and so is the coffee table in front of me. It definitely looks like a worked-in space between my stuff and the piles of paperback books that Susan is inevitably processing into our database.

As for technology, I’m a pretty hardcore Mac user. I do the bulk of my writing on my Mac G-4 Powerbook laptop, which runs Mac OS X, version 10.4.6, which is also known as Tiger. I use MSWord. To say that I despise Microsoft products is an understatement (I view Microsoft as the Evil Empire, and think that the vast majority of Microsoft’s products are really crappy), and I typically refuse to use them whenever and wherever possible. Unfortunately, I have little choice but to use Word for my writing because it’s the industry standard, and because Word Perfect no longer makes a Mac version. I have a high speed flatbed scanner at my disposal upstairs, and I will regularly scan things and then use the OCR software to convert them to Word files, which can be a great way to save time.

I have the OR’s, Southern Historical Society Papers, and Confederate Military History on CD-ROM, but the truth is that I much prefer to use the books. I own a complete set of the OR, and I generally prefer to use them when doing my work because I like to thumb through the pages of the OR to see what little hidden treasure I might find that might not be picked up by the search engines on the CD-ROM’s. I do use the CD-ROM’s to avoid having re-type lengthy passages, but OCR is imperfect, and you have to be especially vigilant about looking for typos and the like in what you retrieve from the CD-ROM’s.

My personal Civil War library consists of somewhere between 1200 and 1500 Civil War books, including the 128 volumes of the OR’s (I haven’t counted recently and have pretty much lost count). Due to space/storage limitations, the vast majority of what I buy, probably 90%, is stuff that’s pertinent to my work, meaning that most of my library is a working research library. The truth is that most of my pleasure reading is NOT Civil War–at the moment, I’m reading the newest W.E.B. Griffin OSS novel for my mindless bed time pleasure reading. The library is upstairs.

In addition, I also have about a dozen banker’s boxes filled with manila file folders of research material. The stuff is typically organized by subject matter, and usually by project. Sometimes, there’s overlap between the books upstairs and the contents of the research files, but for the most part, the material is different. I always maintain a working bibliography as new material is received, thereby enabling me to keep track of what I’ve got.

When I’m ready to tackle a project, I will go upstairs, pull all of the pertinent files and books, cull through them and decide what I want to use, and then get to work.

Tomorrow night, I will address the mechanics of how I actually put together my various projects.

Charles, I hope that this boring little diatribe is what you were looking for…..Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. 🙂

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19 Jun 2006, by


Although I have done some tweaking and tinkering, trying to complete the draft of a chapter that had been hanging, and also in messing around with wrapping up the Rush’s Lancers regimental history project (which took much longer than I thought it would, by the way), I finally got back to work on Dahlgren tonight for real. The last time that I really sat down and wrote, pulling together a new chapter, was the night of March 7, which was the night that Cleo had her stroke. Between having to put her down, and then with the puppy’s arrival, I simply haven’t been able to write in any consequence since then.

Susan and I also have an on-line bookselling business. We purchased the entire inventory of a used book store that went out of business for next to nothing, and Susan’s been diligently working on getting this stuff (more than 10,000 books, mostly paperbacks) inventoried an listed for sale on Amazon. It’s a complicated process which I won’t bore you with. Suffice it to say that while she’s doing that, I can’t write, as I have to take the puppy out to pee every ten or fifteen minutes. We’ve come up with a formula that seems to work. We alternate nights. On nights when she’s doing a box of books, I watch the dogs. On nights when I write, she watches the dogs. Last night was a book inventory night, so tonight was my night to write.

And write I did. I got about six pages of new material written tonight, addressing Dahlgren’s role in the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid (although the controversy comes in the next chapter). I quit tonight after reaching midnight on the night of March 1-2, 1864. March 2 was the last day of Ulric Dahlgren’s life. He was killed shortly after dark that night. I’m just doing basic narrative right now, laying out the basic facts, and will then go back and put meat on the bones once I’ve done so. However, I made some substantial progress for the first time in months, and I have to admit that it felt damned good.

Tomorrow night is Susan’s book night, so it will be Thursday night before I get to write again. Now that I have gotten back into the swing of it, I think that it will go quickly and that I will get this chapter done pretty quickly. The truth is that I had been dreading this one, but it’s come together much more quickly and easily than I ever imagined it would.

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