Month:

June, 2006

Last November 2, I posed a question to you, my loyal readers, that has concerned me for a long time: With respect to Ulric Dahlgren’s apparent plan to kidnap and/or assassinate Jefferson Davis during the March 1864 raid on Richmond, what did Lincoln know about this plan, and when did he know it? Eleven responses were posted, but three of them were by the same person, and I also answered a couple of comments. Thus, only about six of you weighed in on this important question. I was looking for other people’s opinions, and while a few of you gave them, most didn’t. I did so, hoping that your input might help me to finally draw my own conclusions as to the answers to these questions. As you can tell by the title of this post, I still haven’t figured this one out, and it’s entirely possible that I never will.

To recap: When Dahlgren was killed in an ambush, certain papers were found on his body that indicated that, in addition to freeing Union prisoners of war from Libby Prison and Belle Isle, the true object of the raid was to kidnap and assassinate Davis and his cabinet. A huge controversy raged that led to the very unusual step of Robert E. Lee being ordered to send over a letter to George G. Meade under flag of truce inquiring whether such was, in fact, the policy of the U. S. government and U. S. Army. Meade disavowed Dahlgren, and thus a controversy was triggered that rages to this day.

I’m finally up to the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid in the bio of Ully Dahlgren, and have finally gotten myself back to work on the project. This is now forcing me to address this issue head-on, as I now must do so in order to complete the book.

Lincoln had a very close working relationship with Ully’s father, Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren. For the first few months of the war, Lincoln regularly called upon–and depended on–John Dahlgren to protect his safety, and Lincoln go to meet Ully as early as 1861. I am aware of several instances where Ully had an audience with Lincoln, Stanton or both at once. In May 1863, just after the Battle of Chancellorsville, Ully accompanied Joseph Hooker to Washington, and apparently pitched a raid on Richmond to the high command in person. The idea was rejected, but it proposed a deep interdiction raid on Richmond intended to free the POW’s and sever lines of supply and communication. He socialized with Lincoln’s personal secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay. All of this means that Ully Dahlgren had more and more unfettered access to the Oval Office than perhaps any other junior Army officer than any other soldier in the history of the United States.

It is, therefore, incumbent upon any biographer of Ully Dahlgren to try to figure out this riddle. I am persuaded that the so-called “Dahlgren Papers”–the documents that spell out the plan to kidnap and assassinate Davis and his cabinet–are real. I have seen enough exemplars of Ully’s handwriting to see the similarities, his father’s persistent and vigorous protests that the documents were forgeries notwithstanding. There’s not much doubt in my mind that had the opportunity presented itself, Dahlgren would have carried out his plan.

So, having determined that the documents are real, we then come to the $64,000 question of whether Lincoln knew. Political historian David E. Long of East Carolina University (who, quite coincidentally, practiced law here in Columbus for a time prior to getting his Ph.D.) is working on a book on the Kilpatrick-Dahglren Raid (for which I have provided him some material), and believes quite strongly that Lincoln not only knew, but that it was his idea and that he hand-picked Ully Dahlgren to be the instrument to carry it out.

I can’t get that far. Ully had a well-documented tendency to cowboy and even exceed his orders, getting carried away by the moment. He did so at Fredericksburg in November 1862, destroying two railroad bridges that should not have been destroyed, and the loss of which actually made Burnside’s logistics much more difficult once he finally did move on Fredericksburg. It’s entirely possible that General Meade was correct, that Dahlgren was cowboying when he wrote the orders, and that nobody above him in the chain of command had any clue that Dahlgren had such an ambitious scheme in mind for his expedition.

On the other hand, it’s also entirely possible that Stanton knew of the plan and approved it. Why else would a one-legged 21-year-old colonel who was just returning to duty after losing a leg from the knee down to a terrible combat wound be assigned to command a column of 500 cavalrymen when he’d never commanded anything that large in his life? And when Dahlgren was not a member of the command that was assigned to conduct the raid, the Army of the Potomac’s Third Cavalry Division (Dahlgren was a staff officer attached to army headquarters)?

Thus, it’s an educated guess that someone in a position of power knew of and approved the plan. The most likely candidate for that is Stanton, and not Lincoln; I firmly believe that the concept of plausible deniability would have applied here, and that Stanton kept this from Lincoln, who may well have rejected the idea. It’s also not in keeping with Lincoln’s nature and personality.

I’ve asked a couple of fairly prominent Lincoln scholars their opinions on this issue. Matt Pinsker, who teaches at my alma mater Dickinson College, does not believe that Lincoln knew and further believes that such a thing was not in Lincoln’s character. I also asked fellow blogger Brian Dirck, another prominent Lincoln scholar, his opinion, but Brian has never answered my question, so I cannot share his views with you.

So, there are arguments that cut both ways, and after years of gnashing my teeth over it, I remain uncertain as to the answer to this very important question. Like so much about Ully Dahlgren’s short and unfinished life, there are many more questions than answers. I think that’s what I find so compelling about him and his story.

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15 Jun 2006, by

What a Find….

When we were in Gettysburg a couple of weekends ago, J. D. Petruzzi and I met up with Al Ovies, a fellow cavalry historian from Miami. Al was up north to see some cavalry battlefields, but more importantly, to do some research at the United States Army Military History Institute in Carlisle and also at the Gettysburg National Military Park archives.

Not having worked on anything specifically Gettysburg-related in quite a while (other than the Stuart’s Ride project, that is), I hadn’t checked the park archives for new material in several years. Al spent a couple of days there, and discovered a fragment of a memoir by Andrew D. Jackson of Co. G, 6th Michigan Cavalry, that had been donated by one of Jackson’s descendants. The descendant is planning on publishing the memoir, so only a fragment was there, and it has a use restriction on it, meaning that it can’t be copied without the permission of its owner. In other words, it’s just there as a research tool that can’t be used substantively without permission.

Al transcribed a few bits of it and sent those bits on to me. I read them and said, “wow!” Jackson’s account of the July 2 Battle of Hunterstown is really spectacular. Consequently, I decided to do a little detective work, and I tracked down the owner. I wrote to him, and we’ve been corresponding. I’ve offered to help, and he’s given J. D. and me permission to quote from the Gettysburg portion of the memoir in one of our upcoming projects.

He sent those chapters, as well as the chapter that deals with another favorite subject of mine, Sheridan’s June 1864 Trevilian Raid, today. I’m absolutely blown away by the detail in Jackson’s memoir, which is based on his daily diary and letters written at the time. His account of the Battle of Trevilian Station, for instance, is without question the most detailed treatment of the 6th Michigan’s participation in this two-day slugfest I have ever seen, and I have literally looked at hundreds of accounts. There’s new material in here on Hanover, Hunterstown, East Cavalry Field, and during the retreat from Gettysburg that is really a first-rate addition to the body of knowledge. I would be so bold as to say that it may well be THE single finest enlisted man’s memoir arising from the Civil War that I have ever seen.

Fortunately, the owner is getting the memoirs ready to be published, and he expects to finish them up some time this fall. I’ve offered to help, as this is a piece that DEFINITELY deserves to be published. So, if all goes well, this account will be available to the general public much sooner than later, and then the use restriction will become irrelevant. He then intends to donate the original documents to a university for posterity, and so that others will have the benefit of them. That’s not only very generous, it’s really quite selfless; it would be very easy to simply hang on to the originals and have them simply disappear after a while.

Of course, it’s always frustrating when these sorts of things surface when it’s too late to use them as we might like to. I wish I could count the number of times that people have given me things AFTER a project is completed and it’s too late to do anything about it that leave me shaking my head and asking where that person was when I really needed them. That, of course, is a purely emotional and selfish reaction. At the same time, I realize that it’s unavoidable and that each project reaches a point where you just have to say, “I’ve given my best shot,” and declare it finished. I will never get every possible source, and I realize that. Still, it’s frustrating.

That brand new, previously unknown primary sources such as this one still surface is part of what I find so fascinating about the study of the Civil War. That this particular one was written by a lowly sergeant and not a famous general makes it all the more appealing. I edited a similarly wonderful memoir by a private of the 5th Michigan Cavalry a few years ago, and it had also been buried in family archives until one descendant got ambitious and decided to do something about it.

That accounts this spectacular still turn up in people’s dusty attics and in odd places amazes me. We can only hope that they will continue to do so.

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One of the things that I’m really excited about for the history of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry is the collection of illustrations that I’ve accumulated over the years. I have photos of more than 70 members of the regiment plus a bunch of other associated illustrations. They run the gamut from photos of the two regimental monuments at Gettysburg to contemporary woodcuts of the Lancers in the field, to a handsome Winslow Homer painting of Rush’s Lancers in the field in 1862. All told the book will have something in the range of 80 illustrations and about 15 maps. Finding a publisher who would permit me to use/include all of this stuff was critical to my efforts; I didn’t go to all of the trouble of collecting all of this stuff not to include it. For instance, I own a tintype of Lt. William Carey of the Lancers that has never before been published, so I’m really excited about the fact that it will be included. I’ve also gotten a number of photos from descendants of veterans of the regiment that obviously have never been published, either.

The flip side of this equation, however, is that I have spent the last two evenings huddled over the flat-bed scanner upstairs, diligently scanning all of these images. Fortunately, we have a new scanner that’s much faster than our old one, or it would take me about a week to get all of these images scanned. It’s tedious work that doesn’t require much in the way of intellectualism, but it has to be done. So, I turn on Radio Margaritaville and listen to Jimmy Buffett while I slog away at the scanning. I have one photo left to do, and then the maps, and then this particular job is finished. Good riddance, if you ask me.

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13 Jun 2006, by

Bookstores

Last week, Dimitri Rotov posted about his recent visit to a Barnes & Noble store. He wrote:

Shortly before my recent vacation, I stopped by the Barnes & Noble in Reston to see what was doing in the ACW section. Among regional bookstores, their Civil War section is the smallest for some reason.

I usually make a note of what the buyers have stocked up on. Most times, the quantities are not significantly different from title to title. On this day, I did a doubletake to see they had stacked face out at least half a dozen of Eric Wittenberg’s new Savas Beatie book, The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads. A very handsome edition it is too, with lots of maps and illustrations.

Nothing got anything like the shelf space of this new title, with the exception of something by one of McPherson’s students, Tom Carhart. Yes, indeed Lost Triumph also totaled a good half-dozen pieces stacked cover outwards.

There’s the market for you – uncertain. Sweet and sour news for Eric…

Thanks to Dimitri for noticing, and thanks also for the kind words about the book, which is, indeed, a handsome volume.

Then, Mike Koepke picked up the cudgel. Mike wrote:

I would say that I have noticed the same thing. Over the past year, Barnes & Noble has made a conscience decision to reduce the number of Civill War titles on its shelves. Of the 2 stores in my area I have visited, I would say the shelf space devoted to Civil War has dwindled by 50%-60% over the past year. Unless you’re looking for the top sellers or Barnes & Noble books reprints, they are not the place to go if you want to just browse for other off-topic books. Borders has consistantly devoted a much larger section in History to Civil War titles. I would say Borders now has at least 10-15 times more selection.

A number of folks commented that they had seen the same thing, including me. In fact, there are two different Barnes & Noble stores near my house. One is about four miles away, and the other about eight. The closer one is a small store in a neighborhood strip shopping center. The last time that I was in that store, they had about fifteen Civil War books on their shelves. Period. The other store is a superstore–it has two stories, is quite large, and has about three times the inventory of the smaller one. The last time that I was in there, they had about the same number of Civil War books. Our two local Borders stores, on the other hand, continue to maintain a large selection of Civil War books, including multiple copies of many titles. It’s really kind of a shocking comparison.

Given my druthers, I absolutely and categorically refuse to enter either of those Barnes & Noble stores any more. I’m a local author, and they won’t carry my books. I’ve tried to arrange signings at the larger store, and can’t even get the courtesy of a “go pound sand” from them. I used to spend a lot of money in those stores, but I will no longer go in there, and I will no longer buy anything in either one.

Today, Kevin Levin, who has some first-hand, personal knowledge of these things, weighed in. Kevin, who used to work at a Borders store, wrote:

A few of my fellow Civil War bloggers have commented on the poor offerings of Civil War titles at their local stores. Most of us browse either our local Barnes and Noble or Borders and have noticed a difference in the quality of the overall selection. Since I worked for Borders from 1994 to 1998 I can comment on the difference. I worked at the Borders in Rockville, Maryland, which as many of you who live in that area know is one of the larger stores in the chain. I was in charge of the magazine section, but given my growing interest in the Civil War at the time was also responsible for the Civil War section. Those of you who have commented on the selection between these two competitors have rightfully pointed out that Borders seems to offer more. At least when I worked for the company I had the option of ordering any title that I thought would enrich the section. I took full advantage of this opportunity.

As I worked at the Rockville store before the company went “corporate” the place had a sincere intellectual feel about it. I worked with some very thoughtful people who were passionate about reading and engaging customers. I organized my own Civil War reading group and we welcomed a number of local Civil War historians to join us to discuss their own recently released books. In 1997 I organized a day long event which included historians such as William Matter, James Kegel, Ed Fischel, and Craig Symonds. Brian Pohanka dropped by at the end of the day in full uniform to wrap up the event. He was a pleasure to meet. Participants presented formal presentations about their books and stayed to talk to customers and sign books. Needless to say it was a great day.

There is no doubt that the selection of Civil War titles has diminished in the major chain stores. There is no conspiracy however; it is a simple question of how best to utilize limited space. If you want large selections of books than I suggest you find religion or engage in a little self-reflection to uncover your short-comings and any other psychological malfunction that could be helped by browsing the Self-Help section. I suspect that many people are buying on-line where there are some excellent discounts available. I’ve recently moved in this direction, but I still enjoy browsing a well-stocked store. Amazon typically offers up to a 36% discount on newly-released titles. Small press titles are probably suffering more than those published by the university presses, and the reason is that the latter will be bought by both colleges and university libraries. Perhaps that is why they can get away with charging higher prices as they don’t need to print as many. As I’ve said before, most Civil War enthusiasts don’t read books. And most of the people who attend Civil War Roundtable meetings are senior citizens which suggests that unless new blood is discovered the Civil War section will be even more difficult to find in your local store.

Thanks, Kevin. This is useful insight, and I really appreciate it. It also makes a degree of sense, and goes a long way toward explaining some of the seeming lack of interest.

At the same time, my beef with the local Barnes & Noble stores remains intact and unchanged. That they ignore a local author bothers me to no end. I take it personally, even though the logical side of my brain knows it’s not personal. As I said, I will not go in any of the local B&N stores willingly, and I refuse to spend a dime there when I do go in. On those occasions when I feel compelled to visit one of the large chain bookstores, I will choose Borders almost every time, because our local stores always have at least one of my titles in stock. And when we travel, and I have the option, I really like the Books-a-Million stores. Unfortunately BAM does not have a store anywhere near Columbus, so it’s not very often that I get to shop there, typically only when we’re in North Carolina vacationing.

As I said last night, I much prefer to patronize independent book sellers. For one thing, they appreciate the business more than do the megachains. For another, they have a lot more latitude in what they carry, and finally, they are the bread and butter for small, niche publishers such as Ironclad. Thus, whenever I can, I will patronize one of them before the big guys, and if I have to buy from a big mega-bookseller, I prefer Amazon. They discount, and the book gets delivered to me. I can shop from the convenience of my couch. And they ALWAYS have my books in stock….

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12 Jun 2006, by

Too Bizarre….

On Saturday, Susan and I visited a local independent bookseller. They actually have a much better selection of Civil War books than any of the local Barnes & Noble stores (I hate Barnes & Noble. However, that’s another rant for another day). Also, the best customers that Ironclad Publishing has are the independents, so I go out of my way to patronize the independents wherever and whenever possible, just because I feel compelled to support those who support us.

Being an independent bookseller, they also have a lot more latitude to focus on things of local interest and on local authors. However, I was unprepared for what I saw when I walked into the store on Saturday. There, in a very prominent position–an end cap–was an entire shelf dedicated to nothing but my work, with a little shelf tag that indicated that I was a local author. There was a second shelf tag, indicating that the book on Stuart’s Ride was forthcoming soon. I was blown away by this…I had no idea that my work was being featured to prominently in a town that has little interest in history as a general rule.

They had about half of my titles there, more than I had expected. I was, however, very surprised not to see a copy of the Monroe’s Crossroads book on the shelf, so Susan asked about it. The clerk said that he was certain that they had a copy of the book in stock, that he had just seen it recently. He looked, and, sure enough, no book. So, he went and checked on the computer, which indicated that it had not been sold and was still in inventory. We looked all over history and local interest, and even in the newly-arrived stuff that was waiting to be shelved, and we couldn’t find the thing anywhere.

The clerk concluded that the book had been the subject of a ten-finger discount. That somebody would shoplift one of my books absolutely blew me away. It simply never had occurred to me that someone would want one of my books enough to steal the thing. It hit me as bizarre and surrealistic, all at the same time. I’m not often left speechless, but on this occasion, I nearly was. I had no idea what to say about it, and I still don’t quite know what to make of it.

That I’m never going to get rich doing this sort of work is something I realized long ago, and it’s something I’m comfortable with. Therefore, it’s just bizarre that somebody would steal one of my books. I thought only best-selling authors had that happen. 🙂

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Today is the 142nd anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Trevilian Station, named for an obscure stop on the Virginia Central Railroad located in Louisa County, Virginia.

There, in a brutal two-day slugging match that was the largest all-cavalry battle of the Civil War (there were 3,000 Union infantry engaged at Brandy Station), Wade Hampton thrashed Philip H. Sheridan’s cavalry and utterly prevented Sheridan from achieving any of his strategic objectives for his second protracted cavalry raid. I have argued that Hampton’s victory at Trevilian Station was the only decisive cavalry battle of the war. I define decisive as making an impact on the ultimate outcome of the war.

Grant had ordered Sheridan to take two divisions of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, march along the north bank of the North Anna River, and then to fall upon and destroy the critical railroad junctions at Gordonsville (the Virginia Central and the Orange & Alexandria Railroads) and at Charlottesville. Sheridan would find David Hunter’s army at Charlottesville and then, joining with Hunter, escort his army to Petersburg, where the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James would be moving on this critical railroad junction town and logistics center. In the meantime, the Army of the Potomac would steal a march on Robert E. Lee by crossing the James River and would move on Petersburg. It was a brilliant plan, based on Grant’s mastrey of the strategic cavalry raid. The question was: would the execution be as brilliant as the plan. Thanks to a magnificent performance by Wade Hampton, the answer was no.

Had Sheridan accomplished his objectives, he would have torn up the Virginia Central Railroad and then brought Maj. Gen. David Hunter’s Shenandoah Valley army to Petersburg, where the Army of Northern Virginia would have been invested on three sides, and Robert E. Lee either would have had to come out to fight Grant on ground of Grant’s choosing, or the siege would have led to the inevitable strangulation of Lee’s army.

There also would not have been a Shenandoah Valley Campaign that fall, either. Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s army never would have gotten the Valley, and the Valley’s lush granary would have been forever lost to the Confederacy. Instead, when Hunter went to Lynchburg instead of Charlottesville, the defeat of Sheridan’s cavalry enabled Lee to send Early’s troops to meet the threat posed by Hunter. By the time they marched through Trevilian Station on June 14, whatever damage had been done to the Virginia Central had already been repaired, and Early’s infantry was able to board trains at Charlottesville and ride to Lynchburg, arriving just in time to meet the advance of Hunter’s army as it approached Lynchburg. After defeating Hunter, Early marched north, crossed the Potomac River, threatened Washington, D.C., and then withdrew into the Shenandoah Valley, daring Grant to come and get him. Thus, Wade Hampton’s superb battlefield victory at Trevilian Station may have bought the Confederacy another six months’ lease on life.

Here’s to the men of both sides who slugged it out at Trevilian Station that hot, dry June 142 years ago today.

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143 years ago today, an epic passage of arms occurred on the hills and fields surrounding an obscure stop on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad called Brandy Station, located a few miles from Culpeper Court House. 21,000 Union and Confederate cavalrymen and 3,000 Union infantrymen spent fourteen hours locked in mortal combat that day.

The Union commander, Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, the temporary commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, was given a simple task: fall upon, destroy, or disperse the huge concentration of Confederate cavalry in Culpeper County. Pleasonton designed a brilliant plan. He divided his force into two wings. The right wing, consisting of the First Cavalry Division and a brigade of 1,500 selected infantry, would cross the Rappahannock River at Beverly’s Ford, and the Second and Third Divisions, along with another infantry brigade, would cross six miles further south at Kelly’s Ford. With the Second Division protecting the southern flank, the First and Third Divisions would converge on Culpeper. The infantry would hold the fords.

The plan was brilliant, but for one major problem. It was based on a faulty premise; it assumed that the enemy would be in and around Culpeper, and not just across the Rappahannock River. When John Buford’s First Division crossed the river, it immediately encountered Confederate cavalry, and a great battle commenced. Buford’s command lost a brigade commander, Col. Benjamin F. “Grimes” Davis, in the opening moments of the battle. Elements of Buford’s command, including five companies of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, made a determined attempt to capture a battaltion of Confederate horse artillery at St. James Church. Buford’s fight then bogged down into a desperate slugging match.

David Gregg’s Third Division crossed at Kelly’s Ford, and Gregg’s advance reached Fleetwood Hill about 11:00 that morning. There occurred a scene its participants remembered for the rest of their lives: brigade-sized mounted charged and countercharges, featuring sabers glinting in the bright spring sunshine. It was all of the romance typically associated with mounted melees, only a scale almost beyond imagination.

During the climax of the fight, Capt. Wesley Merritt, the commander of the 2nd U. S. Cavalry, engaged in a personal saber duel with Brig. Gen. William H. F. “Rooney” Lee, General Robert E. Lee’s second son. Rooney Lee was wounded in the engagement and was later captured as a result. Buford’s men briefly carried the crest of Yew Ridge, the northern extension of Fleetwood Hill, before being driven back. Col. Alfred N. Duffie’s Second Division, which was held up at Kelly’s Ford for nearly the entire day by two regiments of Confederate cavalry, played no role in the main battle, and only arrived at Fleetwood Hill in time to cover Gregg’s withdrawal.

Jeb Stuart and his Confederate cavalry had been caught by surprise, but they had fought a magnificent fight. The brigade of Brig. Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones, in particular, carried the bulk of the day’s fighting, and these men performed superbly.

Finally, at the end of the day, Pleasonton broke off and withdrew, his troopers withdrawing at their own leisurely rate. Stuart was perfectly happy to let them go. By all measures, Brandy Staiton is a Confederate victory: Stuart held the battlefield at the end of the day, and Pleasonton utterly failed to accomplish his objectives. Although Pleasonton later lied and claimed that he had captured Stuart’s field desk and its contents, thereby alerting the Union high command to the Confederate plan to invade the north, nothing of the sort happened. Pleaosnton was a notorious liar, and this was one of his very worst. In short, the raid accomplished none of its objectives, but it was a magnificent effort on the part of both sides.

Stuart came under harsh criticism for being caught by surprise, but he handled his troops superbly. Ultimately, he won the battle, but he caught hell for it. Brandy Station delayed the beginning of the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania by a single day, so it had very little in the way of strategic significance to the ultimate outcome of the campaign. However, many people, including Stuart’s engineer officer. W. W. Blackford, have claimed that the Brandy Station fight made the Union cavalry, and that from that day forward the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps was fully the equal of Stuart’s vaunted horsemen.

Thus, Brandy Station marks a red-letter day in the development of the Federal cavalry, and it also marks the largest cavalry battle ever fought on the North American continent. As such, it is worthy of being remembered, and I pay tribute to the men who fought and died there that day, whether they wore blue or gray.

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8 Jun 2006, by

Making Progress

Last Friday, when we went to Trevilian Station, I photographed about a dozen sites around the battlefield. These photos will be used in the new edition of my study of Sheridan’s Trevilian Raid that will be published by Bison Books in 2007. Although I was hoping to add new material to the main body of the book, I understand why that would be very difficult. It would change everything, from pagination to the existing index, and everything else.

Instead, we agreed that I would be permitted to add a driving tour of the raid that will feature about a dozen contemporary views of the battlefield, which explains the photography last week. I’ve been working on putting together the driving tour, which will be a bit different from the one that was included in the 2002 issue of Blue and Gray magazine that was dedicated to the Trevilian Raid. Things have changed since we originally put that tour together, and it needed more detail and an update.

After a lot of work, I finished the revised driving tour tonight. All that remains to be done is to download the photos from my digital camera and burn the whole works to a CD-ROM, and it’s all done, ready to go to the publisher. I will do that this weekend, and then the project is complete. That’s one that I can check off my list of open and pending projects, which is always a good thing.

There’s still plenty of work to be done on other projects, of course–I still have to incorporate the additional set of letters that’s coming into my new regimental history of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry, which will arrive in a week or so. I also have in excess of 100 illustrations to scan for that book and a dozen or so maps. Once I get that stuff done, then that project can, after a dozen-plus years, also be put to bed. After so many years, it hardly seems possible that it will be finished, but so it is.

There’s always more. J. D. Petruzzi and I are kicking around an idea that will be a monumental task, probably requiring two volumes in order to do it right. More on that later, as the idea coalesces.

For now, fear not. I am plenty busy.

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Please welcome Tom Churchill, Stephen McManus, and Donald Thompson, authors of a useful book on Civil War research and all ancestors of members of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, to the blogosphere. They have launched a new blog called Touch the Elbow. I have added a link in my blog directory. There’s some interesting material here. Check it out!

Welcome to the blogosphere, guys.

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My recent visit to Gettysburg reminded me of a phenomenon that never ceases to amaze me. As I drove through the Little Round Top area, and specifically, by the spur where the 20th Maine fought, I was again astonished by the number of people packed into that small area. Many of them are, of course, there because of either The Killer Angels or Ted Turner’s movie adaptation of it.

The star of both book and movie is Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the commander of the 20th Maine Infantry. To be sure, Jeff Daniels gave a terrific performance as Chamberlain, and he deserves the accolades that he received for that performance (too bad the follow up in Gods and Generals wasn’t half as good). He really captured–and even looked a great deal like–the essence of the fighting professor.

It bears noting that I am a great admirer of Chamberlain’s, and also a fan. The very first article on the Civil War that I ever wrote–awful as it was–was a biographical sketch of Chamberlain’s life entitled “The Fighting Professor”. I have a real war-time autograph of Chamberlain’s hanging on the wall of my office (from February 1863, signed with the rank of lieutenant colonel), framed with the Dale Gallon print Hold at All Costs, a depiction of Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top. I also own Don Troiani’s Bayonet, a depiction of the charge of the 20th Maine at the climax of the fighting for Little Round Top.

Having said all of that, it never ceases to amaze me as to the completely disproportionate amount of attention that Chamberlain receives vis-a-vis others who also made equally important contributions to the Civil War. There’s no doubt that this is the result of the focus on him in both Shaara’s book and Turner’s film. There’s also the fact of the compelling story: professor of rhetoric, no military training whatsoever, becomes Medal of Honor winning hero who accepts the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. There’s also the point that Chamberlain unquestionably had a true gift for the English language. His writings–in florid Victorian prose–are nevertheless some of the finest writings I have ever read.

Because of the combination of all of these factors, and probably others I haven’t even thought of, Chamberlain receives a very disproportionate amount of attention for his exploits. It’s reached the point that Chamberlain is almost treated like a saint, and the 20th Maine’s spur becomes the destination of an almost religious pilgrimage. It means that, much as I admire Chamberlain, I’m sick to death of hearing about him, and it caused me, a number of years ago, to jestingly dub him St. Joshua of Joshua Top. In the first year or two after the release of the movie, the 20th Maine’s spur was so crowded with people searching for Buster Kilrain’s name on the regimental monument that you almost couldn’t move up there. Fortunately, as the years have passed, this has subsided a bit, but the whole St. Joshua of Joshua Top mentality survives. It never ceases to amaze me.

While any attention to the Civil War is a good thing, this whole St. Joshua of Joshua Top phenomenon unfortunately means that other, equally deserving heroes, such as Brig. Gen. George Sears Greene, whose defense of Culp’s Hill had greater military significance than did Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top, have been largely shunted into history’s dustpan, largely forgotten, and certainly not receiving the credit they deserve. Is it right? No, it definitely is not right. Is it understandable? Yes, it is. Is it unfortunate? Absolutely. Can anything be done about it? Sadly, probably not. As long as people’s first impressions of the Battle of the Gettysburg continue to result from either Shaara’s book or Turner’s movie adaptation of it, this unfortunate phenomenon will continue on unabated.

And it means that equally worthy and deserving soldiers will continue to be overlooked in favor of St. Joshua of Joshua Top. It also means that equally important and interesting spots, such as Culp’s Hill, where the Union truly was saved, go largely unvisited and are often deserted. What’s wrong with this picture?

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