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July, 2007

Historian Paul Taylor has entered the blogging fray. Paul has launched a new blog called “With Sword and Pen”, which he describes as “A Celebration of First Edition and Collectible Books Pertaining to ‘The Late Unpleasantness'”. Imagine a site like Drew Wagenhoffer’s, only dedicated to first editions of books, including those long out of print, and you get the idea.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Paul, and good luck. I’ve added a link.

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The new issue of Blue & Gray magazine arrived today. There’s an article by J.D. and me on Stuart’s shelling of Carlisle in the issue, as well as an extremely truncated version of our response to Andrea Custer. Dave Roth, the publisher, only allowed us 2,000 words, with 1,000 words as to why she was wrong and 1,000 words as to why we’re right. Our original response was 5,500 words long, so what was published is nothing remotely close to what we originally wrote.

J. D. is going to be putting a rebuttal to her response on his blog, so keep an eye out for that if this topic is of interest to you. Frankly, I thought her response was long on patting herself on the back and very short on substance, but that’s just my opinion.

Consequently, we decided that once the issue was out, we would publish the full 5,500 word version here. I’ve added it as a page and not as a post. It can be found here.

Enjoy.

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In working on completing the retreat manuscript, I spent much of the afternoon looking at newspaper coverage of the pertinent time frame. Many of the articles came from The New York Times, but several also came from other papers, such as the Baltimore Daily Gazette. Since there was nothing like e-mail or the Internet in those days, most articles had to be mailed in or delivered by courier; some shorter articles could be transmitted by telegraph. Either way, it usually took at least several days for a piece to appear in the newspaper, and by the time that they did, events had already demonstrated that many of the reports were inaccurate.

Also due to the difficulty in communicating, virtually any rumor that was even remotely credible got published. Thus, one must parse through the newspaper coverage very carefully and with a fine-toothed comb, as these newspaper accounts are just filled with inaccurate information. As historians, we have the responsibility to see that the true facts are presented, so I take the responsibility of parsing out this material quite seriously.

Another phenomenon interests me. Often, the newspapers simply ran stories from other papers verbatim, with attribution to the other paper. As just one example, there were a number of stories from the Philadelphia Press and the Philadelphia Inquirer repeated in the Baltimore newspaper without comment or any indication that anything had been done to determine the validity or accuracy of the stories being recounted. It’s a very interesting phenomenon, and it means that the job of parsing often goes two levels deep.

Many papers had dedicated correspondents that traveled with specific commands. A correspondent of the New York Times named E. A. Paul often traveled with the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, and spent most of the retreat attached to the Michigan Cavalry Brigade of Kilpatrick’s Third Division. It’s akin to what the modern media calls “imbedded journalists” today. While there’s a great bit of detail reported by Paul, the scope is narrow. It’s a real trade-off. Finding complete coverage is, therefore, a challenge. Some Union officers, such as John Buford, Wesley Merritt, and David Gregg, were not fond at all of the media and forbade reporters from accompanying their commands in the field. Therefore, officers such as Judson Kilpatrick used the media to promote himself and advance his own career. It’s somewhat comforting to know that some things never change…..

The final issue is reading microfilm and photocopies. I’ve always despised microfilm–reading it gives me hellacious headaches–so I tend to print stuff out. The problem is that the print-outs are small, and for old eyes like mine, there’s no way I can even think about trying to read this stuff without reading glasses any more.

In spite of it all, newspapers are some of my favorite sources. Some of the very best and most valuable material that we found for Plenty of Blame to Go Around came from newspapers, and including that material really helped to put a lot of very valuable flesh on the bones of the story. I would never feel like my job of researching a project is complete without having thoroughly combing the newspaper sources. I guess I will just have to invest in more powerful reading glasses……

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Now that we’re working on wrapping up our retreat manuscript for publication (we’ve been adding some incredibly good new material to it), I’m once again focused on the issue of decision-making by the Union high command during the latter phases of the Gettysburg Campaign.

Let’s assume for a moment that Jeb Stuart, in fact, did something inappropriate during the early stages of the Gettysburg Campaign, although I don’t believe he did. If Stuart somehow disappointed Lee during the days just before the battle, Stuart’s performance during the retreat was nothing short of spectacular. His horsemen pretty much kept the Army of the Potomac at bay with almost no help from the infantry until Lee’s defensive line was ready and Lee was prepared to receive an attack by Meade. To borrow a line from old pal Ted Alexander, the retreat was Stuart’s redemption. Nobody could ever say that Lee’s cavalry let him down during the retreat from Gettysburg.

The same certainly cannot be said of the Union cavalry during the retreat. Buford’s and Kilpatrick’s divisions fought well and effectively, but their fundamental usages were wrong. Gregg’s division was a complete non-factor for the entire retreat. Gregg’s troopers did not participate in any of the significant combat during the retreat.

Why?

Because Alfred Pleasonton, the Union cavalry chieftain, made terrible decisions about the use of his horse soldiers. Instead of massing his cavalry to try to block Lee’s route of march to the banks of the Potomac River somewhere in the vicinity of Hagerstown, Maryland–which would have forced Lee to fight his way through–Pleasonton instead scattered his three divisions across the countryside. There was virtually no coordination between the three commands, and Gregg’s men were almost totally a non-factor. By being reactive and by scattering his command, Pleasonton ceded the initiative to Lee and gave Lee the opportunity to assume the strong defensive positions on the north bank of the Potomac River that he took up around Williamsport, Maryland.

An ideal opportunity was lost to interdict Lee’s line of retreat, which cost the Union an opportunity to bring Lee’s army to bay before it slipped across the Potomac to the safety of Virginia. The blame for that must lay with Alf Pleasonton and not with Abraham Lincoln.

In addition, the scattering of the cavalry forces also meant that they were not used efficiently for gathering intelligence. Other than Buford, whose skills as a gatherer of intelligence were unequaled in the Union cavalry, very little intelligence of any value was brought in by the Federal cavalry. Instead, the northern horsemen were scattered across the countryside performing uncertain duties. If they weren’t going to be used as a blocking force to prevent Lee from reaching the banks of the Potomac River, then they should have been put to good use gathering intelligence.

Instead, they did neither. For want of a nail, a kingdom was lost.

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At the beginning of June 1863, the Army of Northern Virginia held the southern bank of the Rappahannock River, while the Army of the Potomac held the northern bank. The armies stared at each other across the river.

Most historians say that the Gettysburg Campaign began on June 9, 1863, when 12,000 horsemen of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps splashed across the Rappahannock and pitched into the Confederate cavalry near Brandy Station. It was a fourteen hour slugging match that accomplished little; it delayed the beginning of Robert E. Lee’s movement north by a single day.

Most histories of the Gettysburg Campaign state that the campaign ended with the Confederate crossings of the Potomac on July 14, since that marks the date that the Army of Northern Virginia returned to the safety of the Old Dominion. However, it took another two weeks for the armies to return to their starting points; on August 1, there was another large-scale cavalry fight at Brandy Station, and the two armies sat staring at each other across the Rappahannock River after some more hard marching and some heavy fighting as they marched back down the Loudoun Valley. In short, sixty days later, the armies were right back where they started from.

What’s particularly interesting is that most of the official reports of the campaign go all the way to the return to the banks of the Rappahannock. In other words, the participants believed that the campaign did not end until the armies had returned to their starting points.

Our original draft of the retreat book ended like all the others, with Lee crossing the Potomac. JD pointed out to me that cutting it off abruptly there leaves the reader hanging, and he’s right. Hence, we’ve decided to add a brief epilogue that provides an overview of those two weeks and the return of the armies to the Rappahannock. Our detailed tactical discussion will end with the crossing of the Potomac, but we felt that in order to finish the story correctly and provide some balance to the story of the campaign, we needed to bring the armies back to their starting points. We’re going to cover those two weeks in only three or four pages, but will at least address this two-week period.

So, the question remains: when did the Gettysburg Campaign really end?

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25 Jul 2007, by

Kudos

I want to take a moment to give kudos to Laurie Chambliss of Civil War Interactive. Each week, Laurie reviews the multitude of Civil War blogs and posts a summary of that person’s postings for the week. It’s got to be a huge job–there are plenty of Civil War blogs out there any more–but Laurie covers each one of them each week. It takes dedication and it takes a lot of patience. Personally, I really appreciate everything that Laurie does to make sure that the blogosphere is a good place to be. Thanks for what you do, Laurie.

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I had some clown by the name of William Michael Kemp, a self-professed neo-Confederate who likes to post on white supremacist sites (which should tell you everything you need to know about him), leave an incredibly rude and abusive comment on one of my very early posts on this blog about Nathan Bedford Forrest. I get an e-mail every time someone leaves a comment here (even when I leave the comment), so I know almost immediately whenever one is left. When I read this one, I was genuinely offended, and that takes some doing. He didn’t like my take on Forrest. It’s no secret that I’m no fan of Forrest, and my neo-Confederate “friend” decided to launch a pretty vicious personal attack on me because he doesn’t like my take on his KKK hero.

One of the beautiful things about this blog is that because I pay the bills for this blog, I get to make the rules. One thing that this is not is a democracy. It’s an autocracy, although I am a benevolent despot. Pretty much anything goes, and I really don’t believe in censorship. However, there is one major exception to that rule: nobody has the right to insult me on my own web site, and nobody gets to be rude to my readers. This neo-Confederate clown did both, so I deleted his comment. I am also going to ban his IP address so he can’t play his little game again.

Perhaps your input might be welcome if you knew how to engage in a civil discussion, Mr. Kemp. However, since your means of discussing is to launch rude personal attacks, you will have to find somewhere else to indulge your insecurities, because you won’t be doing it here. Perhaps you might consider learning how to behave so that people take what you say seriously, instead of acting like the ignorant redneck hillbilly that you are.

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23 Jul 2007, by

Dahlgren Update

I have been working on the Dahlgren manuscript for more than 18 months now. For most of the last seven months, it’s been more off than on, but I have periodically worked on it. I was fortunate enough to get some good feedback and editorial suggestions from friends like Scott Patchan, and much of the last few months entailed edits based on suggestions from folks like Scott.

In part, I’ve been a little afraid to pull the trigger on this thing, largely because it’s not placed with a publisher. While I find the story terribly compelling (I had better find it compelling to have invested so much time, money and effort in it, right?), I recognize that the market for biography of a young man who died 34 days before his 22nd birthday will be limited. A limited market means that the commercial publishing houses are not interested in it. Therefore, I have two options: McFarland or a university press. At this point, I’m inclined to go with a university press, and a couple of them have expressed some interest in the project. If I can place it with the University of North Carolina Press or LSU, I think that would be an ideal placement for it.

Today, I finally decided that the time has come to pull the trigger on this thing and put it to bed. I asked old friend Ted Savas to read the manuscript and give me some feedback on it today, and Ted agreed. I will send it along tonight, and when I make any final revisions that Ted might suggest, the thing will then be finished.

At this point, I believe that I have given it my best shot. I’ve looked at several hundred sources and literally hundreds of pages of letters and diary entries written in Ully Dahlgren’s own hand. I’m confident that I have exhausted what’s available to find–with one notable exception, a newspaper article written by Dahlgren and published under the pseudonym “Truth”. I’ve looked at every issue of about a dozen different newspapers but have, to my eternal frustration, been unable to locate it anywhere. I genuinely don’t know where else to look for that article and have given up on finding it. Beyond that, though, I believe that I have exhausted what’s available to me.

It’s time to put it to bed. We shall see how things play out, but I feel good about the final result. I will keep everyone posted as to the progress of the the thing.

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I want to welcome my friend Duane Siskey to the blogosphere. Duane lives in Gettysburg and is a Civil War cavalry reenactor. J. D. and I stayed at Duane’s place the last time we were in Gettysburg. Duane has started a new blog that discusses what it’s like to live in the ‘burg. I’ve added a link to Duane’s blog. Welcome to the blogosphere, Duane.

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I’ve been suffering from a severe case of motivational deficit for months now. I just haven’t felt like writing all year so far this year. So far this year, I’ve written about 15 pages worth of new material all year. We’ve had so much disruption in our lives that I just haven’t had the motivation to write. I’d come home from work with the best of intentions, and then, when it came time to pull the trigger and try to be productive, I just haven’t been able to do it. I’ve been content to post here, read a bit, and then just hang out.

Making a deal with Ted Savas for the publication of our retreat book finally got me motivated to start working again. The original version of the retreat manuscript was written three or four years ago, and since that time, J. D. and I have both acquired a great deal of new primary source material over those years. I plugged most of my stuff into the manuscript over several nights last week, and now J. D.’s doing the same. I located some more stuff after I sent the manuscript to J. D., so I still have some more material to plug in once J. D. finishes.

For the first time in ages, I feel like writing and being productive again. When we finish up with the retreat and send it off to Ted, I will then finally get going on the Boyd article in earnest and will finally finish the thing after setting it aside for months.

It feels good to be productive again.

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