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December, 2006

Please join me in welcoming Michael C. Hardy to the blogosphere. I had no idea that Michael had launched a blog until he posted a comment here. Michael has written several excellent books, most recently, the first book-lengthy study of the May 1862 Battle of Hanover Court House.

Michael’s blog deals with his native North Carolina’s role in the Civil War. Those who know me know of my love of the Old North State, and my interest in those aspects of the Late Unpleasantness that occurred there. Michael apparently launched his blog in October and didn’t tell anyone about it.

Please join me in welcoming Michael to the blogosphere.

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Regarding the plethora of new biographies by historian Ed Longacre, Kevin Levin wrote: “I will say, however, that I tend to stay away from historians who pump out books at a high rate, especially in the area of biography. You can easily distinguish between those biographies that are the result of a careful reading of both the primary and relevant secondary sources. More importantly, you can easily pick out the studies whose authors spent the necessary time thinking about their subject and trying to generate the right questions to ask. When I pick up a biography I want to read a preface that reflects both a careful research and writing process and that involves interaction with fellow historians. In short, I want to read a story of how the historian came to know his/her subject and this takes time.” He concluded by saying, “Perhaps I could have simply said that I am not a fan of production-line history.”

In general, I won’t comment on Ed’s work. I can tell you, however, that Ed’s new biography of Joe Wheeler has been in the works for several years, and that he and I spent a fair amount of time discussing it. In particular, I gave him some material on Wheeler that has never been used in any modern biographical treatment of Wheeler (other than a couple of paragraphs in the epilogue of my book on the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads). At least with respect to the Wheeler bio, I think that Ed has put in his time.

Rather, I want to focus on what I do. I’ve always been a big believer in receiving input from other historians. I’ve always sent my work out for review by people whose opinions I respect. There was a time when I wrote NOTHING that wasn’t read and approved by Brian Pohanka. Today, old friends and cavalry guys J. D. Petruzzi, Bob O’Neill, Horace Mewborn, and Teej Smith read pretty much everything that I write and give me the sort of feedback and fact checking that I need.

In addition, and now that Brian is no longer with us, I try to find experts on particular areas to read things for me, and to give me input. As an example, there are three chapters of my Dahlgren biography which address events between October 1862 and May 1863. Consequently, I was sure to have Frank O’Reilly read the drafts of those chapters for me to make sure that I had the facts correct. John Hennessy currently has the Second Bull Run chapter of the Dahlgren bio. Scott Patchan, another historian whose work I respect, read and commented on an early draft of the Second Bull Run chapter, and is now reviewing the entire manuscript for me.

Finally, as the Dahlgren manuscript marks my first attempt at writing a full length biography, and as there are so many interesting and important issues associated with these events, just today, I decided to ask Ethan Rafuse and Ken Noe if they would be willing to read the manuscript for me and give me some feedback. I’m hoping that they will have time do so, but I understand academic schedules and time constraints, and I’ve told both of them that I will understand if they don’t have time to read the manuscript.

My point is that while I am prolific, I am cautious. The last thing that I would ever want would be to be accused of is cranking out production line history. I never, ever pump stuff out without investing the time into making sure that the work is something I will be proud to have my name on. Because I only write on topics that are of great personal interest to me, I am always willing to invest the effort into making sure that each and every project I tackle is the best product I can produce. The new history of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which is due out next week, represents twelve years of research and writing on this regiment. I’ve literally looked at thousands and thousands of pages of material in culling out the information that I felt was worthy of inclusion in the book.

In fact, I can’t think of a single book I’ve ever written that had less than five years of work on it (other than the Avery manuscript, which I simply edited and annotated). Everything has represented years of research, walking the battlefields, and trying to figure these things out for myself before committing pen to paper. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I think that the receptions for my last couple of projects demonstrates that. The day that ceases to be the case is the day that I close the book on my writing career.

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Having grown up in the Philadelphia area, I have long maintained an interest in the American Revolution. Over the course of the past several years, I have stepped up my reading on the Revolutionary War, and have tried to round out my knowledge base.

Due the success of the CWDG forum boards, I decided to start a second set of forum boards, this time, dedicated to the Revolutionary War. Please check them out. They can be found here. I hope some of my regular readers will find the Revolutionary War as interesting as I do, and that some of you will register and post there.

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