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July, 2006

5 Jul 2006, by

New Blog

Hat tip to Kevin Levin for pointing out that there’s a new blog in town….

The new blog is called Not in Memoriam, but In Defense. Although the blogger has told us virtually nothing about herself, she is apparently a student at Harvard named Sarah, working on a thesis of some sort (I can’t tell whether it’s a master’s thesis or not) that addresses some interesting social history issues pertaining to how Confederate monuments have fared in Richmond, Stone Mountain, and a small town called Moulton, Alabama. The first few posts have been quite interesting, although some information about the blogger, why this topic interests her, and what her ultimate objectives–other than fulfilling an academic requirement–for her research would be most interesting. Check it out.

In any event, welcome to the blogosphere, Sarah.

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Lest it be said that I am a complete Cro-Magnon Man, I wanted to follow up on what I said yesterday.

Someone–who didn’t have the guts to sign his name to his comment–posted a comment on Kevin Levin’s blog that says that I research and write for entertainment. I want to address that comment. While it’s true that my projects are chosen based on my own interest, I also do so because researching and writing about things is how I LEARN about them. I find that doing so is the best way for me to learn. While I don’t have to worry about the old “publish or perish” rule, and don’t write because my job security depends on it, I also write because I am, at heart, a teacher, and since I erred in going to law school and not history grad school, this is how I scratch that particular itch.

Also, when I finish Dahlgren, I have a book on John Hunt Morgan’s great Indiana and Ohio Raid of 1863 under contract. Given the fact that the raid covered about 1100 miles and that many, many civilians fell in its path–many of whom had horses, cattle, and other possessions taken from them by Morgan’s men–the social history aspects of the raid will, by necessity, take up as much space as the tactical (let’s face it–there’s not much tactical to discuss simply riding from one place to the next). Showing how Morgan’s men affected these folks–and in places like Louisville and Cincinnati, which were brushed by the raid but not directly invaded–is most assuredly an appropriate melding of social and military history, and one where I believe it is appropriate. Hence, a good portion of my research is from the civilians along the way and not just the reminiscences of soldiers.

If I can pull this off–and I hope I can, as I don’t have much experience with the social history aspects–then I think that I will have accomplished the sort of blend that meets what Ken Noe called “the new Civil War history” in his fine Perryville book.

That, I believe, is the sort of balance that should be the focus. To be very clear about my position on these matters (which, I think, has been a bit misconstrued, and which is probably my fault for not being clear), my complaint is where the social history overwhelms the military/tactical. That’s where I think that the problems arise, and that was my complaint about Rable’s book on Fredericksburg. In my mind, the best study is that which is balanced, and that’s what I’m trying to accomplish.

Note to the commentator on Kevin’s blog: It’s really a shame that you didn’t have the guts to sign your comment and to engage me in a dialogue directly, as it might have been fun. Instead, you took the low road, insulted me, made personal attacks on me, and then hid behind a veil of anonymity. Very mature of you. I can only hope that the likes of you aren’t in front of a classroom teaching America’s youth. By the way, anonymous comments are not permitted here, so you won’t be able to play your cowardly game here. If you want to discuss something with me, do so like a man. Otherwise, you are beneath contempt.

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4 Jul 2006, by

Peer Review

Kevin Levin has an interesting post on his blog today expressing his preference for university press books since they utilize an anonymous peer review process. He asked what some of the smaller independents such as Ironclad Publishing, Savas-Beatie, and White Mane do in the way of peer review.

Let me begin by saying that White Mane does none. As it is not much more than a subsidy press, they will publish anything that comes in the door, usually without even copy editing the books. That’s why White Mane has such an atrocious reputation. I might add that the company’s atrocious reputation is richly deserved.

I also want to address the question of university press peer review. I’ve had four books published by university presses, so I have some experience with the process. For the most part, that was a good experience. Most of the feedback that I got was useful, corrected factual errors, and generally made the books better. However, some of it was completely useless to me. The stuff that I’ve had published by university presses has been editing someone else’s words, and my object has always been to remain as faithful as possible to those words. Suggestions like adding discussion about impact on civilians, slaves, etc., are totally useless to me for a variety of reasons.

First, and foremost, the so-called “new military history” holds little interest for me. As a general statement, I couldn’t care less about the impact on civilians, slaves, etc., unless that impact affected the outcome of the battle. Not being an academic historian, I don’t have to bow at the feet of that particular golden calf, and I decline to do so. As a general statement, social history holds very, very little interest for me, so I choose not to deal with it unless it really is important to what I’m doing. To some extent, I have to deal with some of this in my Dahlgren bio, so to the extent that it’s necessary to tell the story, I am doing so. But, that’s the exception and not the rule.

Second, the other issue with academic peer review is that it perpetuates a tendency toward continuing to churn out books that are of little interest to anyone other than those with a heavy academic bent. It’s groupthink. If the manuscript doesn’t fit the template for the “new military history” (whatever that is), then it will be rejected. Thus, the tendency in the university presses is to perpetuate the unhappy tendency to downplay military history in favor of social history.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Frank O’Reilly’s wonderful campaign study of the Fredericksburg Campaign, published by LSU, comes to mind. It’s a very traditional campaign study that is almost purely military history, and I loved it. The same holds true for all four of Gordon Rhea’s terrific books on the Overland Campaign, all also published by LSU, and all of which are very traditional military history studies. Likewise, Ken Noe’s excellent book on the Battle of Perryville, published by the University of Kentucky Press, also comes to mind. It’s also a much more traditional military history. My work is heavy on tactics and extremely light on social history. That means that, by definition, it’s not well suited to a university press. Our cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign study will only include as much social history as is absolutely necessary to address the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania, but that will be the extent of the social history. The rest will be pure, traditional military history.

Having said all of that, I will now share my answers to Kevin’s questions.

With Ironclad, peer review of manuscripts is one of my primary responsibilities within the company.

I can tell you without any hesitation whatsoever that nothing we publish goes out without extensive peer review. With respect to Gettysburg stuff, I typically handle that myself, as I have 35+ years of study into the battle. I’ve literally read hundreds of books on the subject, and I’ve spent countless days walking the field. I think I can safely say that I know as much about Gettysburg as anyone out there claiming to be an expert. If it’s something that I don’t feel comfortable with, I certainly know enough people to find someone. My East Cavalry Field manuscript was reviewed by Scott Hartwig.

For things non-Gettysburg, we pay someone who is an expert to give me a detailed review, usually done anonymously. The Averasboro book was reviewed by Mark Bradley, who is THE authority on the Carolinas Campaign.

We have one book in the production queue on cavalry operations in the Chickamauga Campaign. I have only a passing knowledge of this subject, so we paid an authority on the campaign to review and comment on the manuscript (I told this person I would not identify him, so I can’t name him here. Suffice it to say that he’s one of the top five or six experts on the battle).

Our copy editor at Ironclad is an expert on the Civil War in his own right. He’s extremely knowledgeable, and he frequently catches things. Likewise, we use Lee Merideth to do our indexing, and Lee also catches things. Finally, I do the final read–mostly a proofread–before the work goes to the printer, and I occasionally find things even at that late stage in the process.

Between the readers, the editor, the indexer, and finally me, the likelihood of something other than a small error getting by all of us are pretty small.

I can also tell you that Brassey’s, now known as Potomac Books, does the same thing. I’ve been paid by them to review three manuscripts over the years. Two were published. One was trashed on my recommendation. Having worked with Ted Savas on two different books, I can tell you that Ted does the same thing.

We all have the same objective: publishing the best possible book with the fewest errors, and our process is designed to try to make sure that that’s precisely what happens.

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2 Jul 2006, by

An Announcement

Today, being the 143rd anniversary of the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, seems a good time to make an announcement.

In 1986, Ed Longacre published his book The Cavalry at Gettysburg. It won lots of awards when it was published–and rightfully so. It was a groundbreaking work, the first full-length study to focus entirely on mounted operations during the Gettysburg Campaign. There are a couple of problems with the book. First, and foremost, Ed’s never been known as a tactical historian. His works always deal with the big picture and seldom contain much in the way of tactical detail. Consequently, all of the campaign’s mounted actions, including the fourteen hour slugging match at Brandy Station, are covered in 338 pages. That, by definition, means that there is little in the way of tactical detail, and few maps.

Second, Ed’s book is now a bit dated. It no longer represents the state of the art. For one thing, the book repeats lots of myths as the gospel truth, including repeating the myth that John Buford’s troops were armed with repeaters at Gettysburg on July 1, when this is not the case. Lots of good new primary source material has surfaced since the publication of Ed’s book twenty years ago. As one excellent example, Ed lamented the fact that John Buford evidently did not pen an official report of the Battle of Brandy Station. Three years after the publication of Ed’s book, Buford’s report was found in the Joseph Hooker papers in the archives of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, thereby changing the interpretation of the battle forever.

J. D. Petruzzi and I got to talking about things, and we realized that, between us, we have published on about 85% of the mounted actions during the Gettysburg Campaign, and that we had plenty of research material on the remaining 15%. We realized that if we combined all of our stuff and updated it, we could then produce a two-volume set on mounted operations in the Gettysburg Campaign that would hopefully stand as the definitive work on the subject. It will represent a lifetime’s work for both of us–probably thirty years of combined research and scholarship. Our proposed project will have the tactical detail that Longacre’s book lacks, and we will also be able to update the research and make it reflect the state of the art for the research.

John Heiser, who is technically retired from cartography, has agreed to make an exception for us and to complete our map set. Between the prior maps and the new ones, the set will have approximately 50 maps, and we anticipate somewhere in the vicinity of 100 period illustrations and probably 50-100 contemporary views of the sites involved. All told, the thing could approach 1,000 pages in length, and we hope that it will stand as THE work on the subject.

The working title for the project is To Horse!: Mounted Operations in the Gettysburg Campaign. It’s obviously going to take a substantial period of time to complete a project of this magnitude, so please don’t expect it to be done tomorrow, or in six months. I have to finish Dahlgren, and I have a book on John Hunt Morgan’s Indiana and Ohio raid of 1863 under contract that will have to be completed, too. We’ve approached Ted Savas of Savas-Beatie about publishing it, and Ted has expressed a definite interest.

We will keep everyone posted.

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1 Jul 2006, by

Showing My Age

Time for a good rant. I haven’t had one for a while. Warning to those of you who are only interested in the Civil War–you’re going to hate this post. It’s a rant about something else that’s always been important in my life–music–and has absolutely NOTHING to do with the Civil War. So, proceed at your own peril.

I was born in the spring of 1961, meaning that I am 45 years old, although there was a time not that long ago (or so it seems) when the thought of being 45 was akin to being old as the hills. For the most part, I try not to act my age; I try to live my life by the title of one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs, “Growing Older But Not Up.”

One place where I am, apparently, an old fuddy-duddy is with music. Simply stated, I think that the vast majority of the new music being made today is beneath contempt. Calling most of this stuff garbage is an insult to rubbish (am I the only one who doesn’t get Green Day at all?). While there are notable exceptions (new Scottish singer K. T. Tunstall being one very notable exception), most of what’s out these days is trash. I had a discussion with a friend not long ago wherein we lamented the fact that it’s apparently not difficult to make it in the music biz today even if you don’t have a lot of musical talent. Britney Spears, for one, comes to mind when I say that.

I am a product of the 1970’s (I graduated from high school in 1979). Most of my favorite bands have been around since then. Many of my favorite bands fall within the category of progressive rock. Prog rock bands had genuine talent as musicians, and many of them were classically trained. See Kansas, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Traffic, and the other great prog bands if you need a few examples of what I mean here. My wife’s office assistant, who is all of 19, has never even heard of most of these bands.

Today was one of those rarest of days here in Central Ohio: a summer day with not a cloud in the sky, not too hot, and no humidity to speak of. So, on the spur of the moment and just for the hell of it, I decided to check and see whether I could tickets to a double bill concert here tonight: Huey Lewis and the News and Chicago. To my great surprise, I was able to get two tickets at face value in the 18th row center. Off we went to the show.

I guess I must be showing my age. I can only think of one other instance where I saw more gray hair and more receding hairlines at a concert than tonight, and that’s when we went to see Simon & Garfunkel on their reunion tour a couple of years ago. Fortunately, I still have nearly all of my hair (although it has receded a bit), but I do have PLENTY of gray. So much so, in fact, that it shocks me every time I get my hair cut and I see the volume of it.

I always really liked Huey when he was at the height of his fame in the 1980’s. I saw him live twice in 1982 and 1983, and always thought he put on a great show. He didn’t disappoint tonight. Although the band behind him has changed, they still sound great, and the crowd was really into it. He may be in his mid-50’s now, but he can still rock, and still play a mean blues harmonica. Huey had quite a run of hits in the ’80’s, and they still sound good. They did all but three of his really big hits: “Hip to be Square” (the biggest of all), “Jacob’s Ladder” (actually written by Huey’s friend Bruce Hornsby), and “Walking on a Thin Line”.

Chicago was fabulous. They’ve always been a favorite of mine. This is their 39th year as a band, and there are still five original members. They recently released Chicago XXX. Ponder that for a moment….

Each one of them is a consummate professional and a virtuoso musician. The three horn players are all remarkable musicians. They opened the show by playing the entire “Ballet for a Girl From Buchanan”, which made up an entire side of Chicago II. Everyone of my generation knows “Colour My World,” which was guitarist Terry Kath’s signature song. Kath shot himself in 1977, and it nearly killed off the band. When they did it tonight, it had Huey Lewis on lead vocal, and he nailed it. It was pretty remarkable. When they did “I’m a Man,” both bands performed it together–both Huey and the News and Chicago.

Chicago did all of their hits, all of them comfortable and familiar. Their second album, Chicago II, which came out in 1969 and was a double album, is generally considered to be one of the top twenty rock albums, and certainly one of the most influential. Songs from it include: “Make Me Smile”, “Colour My World”, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”, and, of course, Chicago’s signature song, “Twenty-Five or Six to Four.” They did all of these tonight, closing out with “Twenty-Five or Six to Four” as the final encore. They only did one of those sappy songs that sold so many records in the 1980’s, instead focusing on the first five albums and also on their newest record.

The five remaining original members are all in their sixties now, and these old boys can still play and they can still rock. Although the current bass player doesn’t quite have the magnificent soaring voice of Peter Cetera, he’s a tremendous musician and is able to sing Cetera’s songs quite competently indeed.

On one hand, I felt quite old tonight, although there were certainly plenty of folks in attendance tonight much older than me. On the other hand, I was completely in my element, singing along (quite badly, I might add) and knowing all the words to almost every song by heart. Most of all, I was totally digging the idea that I was getting to hear great music played live by consummate musicians. Huey Lewis put it quite well at one point tonight when he said “In an America that seems to enjoy watching amateurs ice skate, try competitive sports, and most of all sing, these guys [Chicago] are real pros.” He was, of course, right on the money. The great tragedy is that the current generation has never really experienced that. They’re content with mediocrity. We never were.

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