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September, 2007

Sean Dail’s comment to last night’s post got me thinking about the whole concept of speaking to promote one’s books concept of marketing. I’ve done a tremendous amount of this over the course of the last ten years. I’ve always taken the attitude that when I speak, I have a room full of potential book buyers in front of me. Sometimes, people do buy, but more often than not, they don’t. Some groups are better about it than others, and some are downright terrible about it.

I rarely charge other than some travel money for speaking engagements for this reason. Don’t get me wrong–if it’s part of a commercial enterprise, then I fully expect to get my fair share of the pie. Conferences usually pay pretty well, which is why I readily accept invitations to participate in them. However, the overwhelming majority of Civil War Roundtables can’t afford to pay stipends, and most don’t. Most will cover travel expenses, but there are even a handful that won’t do that. Virtually all will offer the opportunity to sell books.

Over the course of the past ten years, I’ve easily spoken to 40 or 50 Roundtables around the country, some more than once. It’s enabled me to visit places I might not otherwise have gotten to see, such as my trip to New Orleans and Austin this past spring. More often than not, it wears me out. The travel is tiring, and so is the actual act of speaking. I rarely sell more than half a dozen or so books, so it’s questionable whether there’s enough of a financial reward to make it worth the while. To be honest, after nearly fifteen years of doing it regularly (literally hundreds of times), I’m beginning to grow a bit weary of the whole thing. I still enjoy the interaction with the public, but one can only get so excited about doing the same talk for the 100th time.

Stephen W. Sears does not accept speaking engagements at all. He calls it the “cannonball circuit.” I first heard that Steve doesn’t do speaking engagements in 1990 or so when I was the program chairman of our Civil War Roundtable and contacted him to invite him to speak. He has never elaborated for me the reasons why he chooses not to do speaking engagements, and I’ve never asked. I always figured that if he wanted me to know, he would have told me.

Likewise, I know that Bill Frassanito has stopped doing speaking engagements. Bill told me that in person the last time that I was in Gettysburg. Bill would prefer to sit down with his legion of fans at the Reliance Mine Saloon and enjoy an adult beverage or two, in an effort to engage in some direct sales techniques.

I am also aware that some of the academic historians who make up the core of the Civil Warriors blog have a very different philosophy about this. Brooks Simpson spelled it out well in this post.

First, I’m not a traveling bookstore. I’ve never carried with me books to sign. There are plenty of ways to obtain my writings, and frankly I think it’s somewhat embarrassing, even humiliating, to assume we are there to peddle our wares. If I want to publicize something, there are far more effective ways to reach a far larger audience.

Second, I don’t speak before general groups in order to sell books or to make money. I don’t see my appearances as a book tour. It’s flattering to have people ask me to sign books, but I don’t travel to sell books: that would be financially counterproductive. An honorarium is always appreciated, but in some cases I’ve actually helped groups out by not charging certain expenses so they can use that money to do preservation work. There are much better and easier ways to make more money in the same amount of time; if anything these trips eat into the time and energy I have for such enterprises.

Third, I speak because I suppose people want to hear what I have to say about something. I don’t have a folder of recycled talks. I do what I can to make each talk fresh and different, and the instances where I have returned to a previous talk are rare.

Fourth, although many people are very appreciative and kind, I do detect in a few members of the audience some of the traits Mark has highlighted. I don’t think a CWRT or any other group is doing me a professional favor by having me come and talk. Rather, what I’m doing is a professional courtesy. I am very surprised when people in other white collar professions treat me in ways they would not be treated, and expect me to give away for free knowledge and insight for which they would charge … and then assume that I should be grateful for that opportunity. What makes that even more amusing is to hear mumblings afterward that some people ascribe to me behavior they exhibited in my presence: some folks actually like to demean what I do by saying, “that’s your opinion,” “I know better,” or whatever. I don’t think they would take that so kindly if they were the “expert” being consulted; if you are going to treat me that way, then why have me come in the first place, and why do you show up? This said, these encounters with smugness and condescension are the exception, not the rule, in my experience. Then again, I’ve never spoken before some of the groups Mark and Kevin Levin have mentioned.

Mark Grimsley makes similar points. There is a great deal of validity to what they both say.

To be honest, I’m beginning to re-think the whole strategy of promoting my books through speaking to Civil War Roundtables. Each trip keeps me from doing client work that I get paid to do, and each trip prevents me from working on my various research projects and the like. I’m just not sure how many more Roundtable talks I’m going to agree to do that require me to travel more than an hour or two for these reasons.

Let me throw it open to you, my readers. What do you all think about this issue? Please feel free to speak freely; nobody is being graded on this, and it helps me to make some important decisions.

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Every March, Liberty University, located in Lynchburg, Virginia, has a Civil War conference that was apparently started by Rev. Jerry Falwell himself, who evidently had an interest in the Late Unpleasantness.

Now, it bears noting that Liberty is a Southern Baptist university with a religious orientation, and it is also intensely conservative, in keeping with the religious and political philosophy of its founder, Reverend Falwell. Let’s also keep in mind that I’m a Jewish lawyer and liberal Democrat from Philadelphia. In short, I am the anti-Falwell.

Today, upon the recommendation of Stephen W. Sears, I was invited to be one of the presenters at next spring’s conference at Liberty, which will feature the Gettysburg Campaign. So far, Kent Masterson Brown is confirmed, as is Prof. Steve Woodworth, who is one of the contributors to the excellent Civil Warriors group blog. I also told the conference director that I would assist him in locating additional speakers to fill out the program.

I’m going to do my Stuart’s Ride talk, I think–I was given cavalry operations as the topic, and I’m inclined to limit it to the Stuart’s Ride topic. Most of all, I am known as as an authority on the Gettysburg Campaign, so I guess it is appropriate for me to participate in this conference.

At the same time, given my political proclivities and my religious background, this should make for a very interesting experience. Hopefully, no bolts of lightning will strike me while I’m there…..

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13 Sep 2007, by

My Father

I saw something this evening that I never thought I would ever see again. I saw my father walk, without the assitance of either a walker or a cane. And I saw him walk remarkably well, considering that it’s only been nine weeks and the severity of the stroke. He’s a testament to resiliency and hard work.

His speech is still garbled, and he’s suffering from global aphasia, and I doubt it will ever be completely clear again as a result. However, I can understand the majority of what he says, and can guess at most of it from context.

All things considered, it could have been much, much worse, and it did my soul a lot of good to see him up and walking on his own without any assistance.

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After being gone for too long, Brett Schulte’s back. And he’s back with a great idea. Brett has asked me, as well as several others, to participate in his new group blog, TOCWOC, which stands for The Order of Civil War Obsessively Compulsed – Amateurs with Attitude!

Fear not. The vast majority of my rantings will continue to occur here. This will always be my home, although I may cross-post some things from time to time. I also may post there exclusively from time to time, but that’s a good thing. It gives all of you another blog to read. 🙂

I always really appreciated Brett’s insights, and was very sorry to see him stop blogging. I was very honored when he asked me to participate in his new blogging venture, and look forward to being part of the group.

As I said, this will always be my main blogging home, so fear not.

I’ve added a link to TOCWOC.

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I have a little bit of attention deficit disorder. It means that I tend to have a short attention span and that my mind often wonders unless I have something specific to focus on. I am able to focus to the point of exclusion of everything else when I need to do so, but I need a little bit of distraction to do so. That’s why I usually have the radio playing in my office during the day, since that little bit of distraction allows me to concentrate.

I had one of those moments today when I didn’t have anything specific to do and allowed my mind to wander a bit. Next thing I know, instead of thinking about my client’s lawsuit, which is probably what I SHOULD have been thinking about, I found myself instead thinking about how George Gordon Meade handled the pursuit of Lee’s army after Gettysburg (which has been a source of nearly constant thought and consideration over the past few weeks). Although it kept me from doing work that I probably should have been doing (and for which I would get paid), I found myself hashing things out in my mind yet again, and damn if I didn’t come up with a new twist today.

I’m not going to share it here, as I don’t want to steal my own thunder just yet, but suffice it to say that it is an insight that I have never had previously, and it’s worthy of discussing in the book. I just need to work on it some more, organize my thoughts, and then I will include it in the final chapter, which is where we present our analysis and conclusions.

It’s another example of me thinking too much. Often, that’s not a good thing. But this time, I think it was.

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My recent rant apparently rankled Marc Leepson, the author of a recent book on the Battle of Monocacy. Evidently, he tried to post a comment to my rant, and failed for whatever reason. Consequently, he tracked me down through my professional website and sent me an e-mail through the “contact me” feature.

So that nobody can accuse me of censorship of comments or of not permitting Mr. Leepson the opportunity to respond, here is the e-mail verbatim (although I have left out his telephone number and personal e-mail address, both of which the form requires):

Name : Marc Leepson
email : XXXXXXXXXX@aol.com
phone : (XXX) XXX-XXXX
comments : I tried submitting this as a post to your blog, but it seemed to be rejected.

Here is what I wrote:

I must reply to your posting, which I have just seen for the first time.

You made some serious mistakes in your posting. I did list Ed Bearrs’ excellent book in the bibliograpy and I credited him in my acknowledgements. I didn’t quote from it, but I went through every page and relied on it for battle details.

I don’t believe you read the book. Because if you had, you would have seen that not only did I not “completely overlook” the National Tribune, but I quoted from several of the articles in there by Union Soldiers.

I quoted Corp. Roderick A. Clark from the 14th New Jersey on pages 113 and 129 from his April 15, 1886, National Tribune piece.

I quoted Pvt. Daniel B. Freeman of the 10th Vermont on pages 109-110, from his March 18, 1897, National Tribune article.

I quoted W.T. McDougle of the 126th Ohio on pages 97, 100, and 103 from his Feb. 21, 1884, National Tribune article.

I quoted similar reminiscences from The Weekly Observer from Thomas Scott, B.F. North, Stuart McDonald, Charles H. Enos, and Andew Wilkin of the 122nd New York.

In fact, it was a line from Scott’s article that gave me the title of the book: “Now began a desperate engagement,” he said of the fighting outside Ft. Stevens. “In no other engagement of our three years’ service did we witness so many acts of individual valor and daring.”

I spend many months going through scores of memoirs and collections of letters, and quoted from nearly all of them in the book.

Here’s a list of the just the Union sources I used from memoirs, letters or diaries:

George Ames, David Homer Bates, Alfred Bellard, John H. Brinton, James Bowen, Noah Brooks, Sylvannus Cadwallader, F.B. Carpenter, Lucius Chittenden, Charles C. Coffin, Henry Colyer, Cyrus Comstock, Alonzo Clapp, Chares Dana, John William DeForest, Charles G. Halpine, Abner Hard, Amos Hardy, John Hay, Henry B. Hays, Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Daniel M. Holt, Charles A. Humphries, Thomas W. Hyde, Charles F. Johnson, Elizabeth Blair Lee, Charles Russell Lowell, Theodore Lyman,John M. Marble, Charles McDowell, Nelson A. Miles, Alexander Neil, Simon Newcomb, John Nicolay, Horace Porter, Ely Parker, Robert Reyburn, Alfred Roe, Piny Fiske Sanborne, Frederick William Seward, William T. Sherman, George T. Stevens, David Hunter Strother, Horation Nelson Taft, Mason Whiting Tyler, ALdace F. Walker, Gideon Welles, Frank Wheaton, Frederick Wild, and Frank Wilkerson.

I also have a list of Confederate diaries, journals, letters and memoirs I could add.

Yes, this is the first book I wrote about the Civil War. But I worked extremely hard on it. That included three trips to Monocacy. The folks at the Monocacy National Battlefield have extensive files with photocopies and transcriptions of first-person accounts of the battle from several archives. And they kindly allowed me to photocopy the material. That saved me from having to visit places like the Huntington Library in California.

Please think twice the next time when you make such harsh criticism. All of the reviews of the book have been extremely positive, from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly Book List, The Washington Post (by Jonathan Yardley), and the Richmond Times Dispatch. You can read the Yardley Review and the PW review in their entirety on the Amazon.com page for Desperate Engagement. The others are exceprted on my web site, www.marcleepson.com

I want to respond to several of the comments.

1. I have, indeed, read the book, just as I read everything that gets published on the Battle of Monocacy. As I have said here repeatedly, this is a subject of great interest to me, and I snap up everything about this battle I can get my hands on. What I did not do was spend a great deal of time going through the footnotes. Instead, I carefully went through the bibliography, and NONE of the sources that Mr. Leepson mentions in his e-mail were included in the bibliography. Why they weren’t included there is a complete mystery to me. I am, however, willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that his publisher made that ill-advised call, and not Mr. Leepson.

It also bears noting that I was referring to UNPUBLISHED manuscript material with respect to memoirs, diaries, and letters, not published sources. Just about all of the sources Mr. Leepson claimed that he used were published. Anyone can find the published materials. The trick–and the talent–is in finding the caches of unpublished material.

2. Sean Dail has already pointed out to me that I was wrong about the Bearss book not being mentioned (see the very first comment to my original post), and I acknowledge that error.

3. I believe that the rest of my critique remains valid and appropriate. The fact is that Mr. Leepson is not an authority on the Civil War, and does not have a solid grasp of either the tactics or the terrain. As an old friend of mine, who spent 26 years as a combat engineer in the U. S. Army, is very fond of saying, “the terrain is THE primary source.” No truer words have ever been spoken. One can only truly understand Civil War combat by spending the time on the terrain and letting it talk to you. You HAVE to understand both the tactics AND the terrain, and, with all due respect to Mr. Leepson, there simply is no way that he could have spent the necessary time on the terrain in three visits, most of which were evidently spent going through the park’s research files, to really understand either the terrain or the tactics. Over the years, I have visited this battlefield at least 15 times, and have had to figure out the terrain and tactics on my own, before there was interpretation available out there.

By contrast, I spent seven entire days on the battlefield at Trevilian before thinking about writing, and then made several more trips DURING the process of writing to make sure that I had the terrain correct. The same holds true of my Monroe’s Crossroads study.

4. The lack of a response to my criticism of the lack of good maps speaks volumes. Again, there is no way to do any sort of detailed tactical study of a major battle with three maps for a 250 page book. It simply can’t be done.

As pointed out in my original post, this book does have some real pluses. It’s very well written, as I would expect of a journalist. It likewise gives an excellent overview of things, and makes for a good introductory study of this important battle. However, as someone who is hardly a novice, I found it really lacking in the sort of depth that I would expect, and instead was disappointed by its cursory examination of these events.

In short, the door remains wide open for a detailed tactical study of this important battle. I understand that one of the park rangers at the Monocacy National Battlefield is working on just that, to be published by the park, so I guess I will just have to wait and see how that pans out.

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The other day, I received this e-mail from old friend Jim Morgan, who heads the battlefield guide program at the Ball’s Bluff battlefield in Leesburg, Virginia:

I’m delighted to announce that all the new, updated, and corrected historical markers are in.  The original 16 which, even if correct, were weathered and not looking very good, have been replaced with new ones, plus four completely new signs help tell the story even better. 

Two new interpretive trails have been cut as well, and three of the original signs moved to new locations on them.  These trails are somewhat more user friendly and on the new “Jenifer trail” the sign related to Lt Col Walter Jenifer, who commanded the small Confederate cavalry force, is closer to where his force actually was on the battlefield.

The four completely new signs are at the Baker stone, the Hatcher stone, the bluff overlook, and in a spot roughly in the middle of the field approximately where an 1886 photo of a 15th Mass reunion was taken.  It shows how the currently wooded area was actually an open meadow in 1886 and, by extension, in 1861.

There also is a privately-funded monument to the 8th Virginia now in.  Built on a square base of stone that closely resembles the stone in the cemetery wall, it has a slanted top on which sits a plaque listing the battles in which the 8th Virginia fought.  It is located close to the Eppa Hunton historical marker.

Because of the new sign and trail arrangement, the NVRPA is in the process of creating new trail maps and info brochures. These will be out before too much longer.

On Saturday, Sept 22, at 10:00, the official unveiling and dedication of these new interpretive aids will take place.  Beginning at 9:00 and continuing to 4:00, there will be a series of living history demonstrations by Union and Confederate reenactors.  The same types of activities will take place on Sunday from 10:00 to 4:00.

Y’all come.

Jim Morgan

This is fabulous news. Having had Jim’s personal tour of the battlefield, I can tell you that nobody knows more about this important but extremely early battle than does Jim, and that these new markers are a tribute to his dedication.

Take him up on his offer of a tour. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

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If I may be allowed just a moment of blowing my own horn…..

Tom Ryan of Bethany Beach, Delaware, the president of the Central Delaware Civil War Roundtable,, and an expert on intelligence gathering operations during the Civil War, and who regularly reviews new Civil War books, has published a review of my history of Rush’s Lancers in yesterday’s edition of The Washington Times newspaper.

Here’s Tom’s review. I am quite pleased with it, and think it a very fair review of the book:

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry became the subject of interest as well as humorous comments during the Civil War because of its peculiar weaponry: The troopers carried 9-foot lances with a colorful pennant displayed on the leading edge. While lances were curiosity pieces, they also proved to be antiquated and ineffective.

“Rush’s Lancers” provides in-depth coverage of this cavalry regiment’s wartime activities. A unit recruited mainly in Philadelphia and starting out with more than 1,000 officers and men, the Lancers suffered nearly 50 percent casualties during four years of combat.

Eric J. Wittenberg has compiled the record of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry and presented its story in succinct prose. He employs primary sources, including newspaper accounts, extensively. The author’s experience as a Civil War cavalry historian is reflected in his writing.

The Lancers’ officers were mainly members of Philadelphia society. The formation of the unit was an experiment in whether elite “Chestnut Street dandies” could join with working-class enlisted men to form a viable combat unit. The regiment derived its name from the original commander, Col. Richard H. Rush.

In late 1861, after basic training in Philadelphia, the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry set up camp on Meridian Hill in Washington. Soon thereafter, Union Army commander Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan decided that they should become a regiment of lancers.

By March 1862, the Lancers had joined McClellan’s Cavalry Reserve at Manassas and moved with the army to the Virginia Peninsula. They soon became the butt of jokes about the odd-looking “turkey-drivers” they were required to carry.

For some time, the 6th Pennsylvania performed reconnaissance and scouting duties. Soon the unit was engaged on the front lines capturing prisoners, damaging communications, screening the army’s flanks, and engaging in demonstrations to deflect the enemy’s attention.

The Lancers’ first major confrontation with Confederate cavalry occurred during the Seven Days battles and was inauspicious. Perhaps as a result, the regiment’s companies were dispersed among the Army of the Potomac’s various corps and continued to perform reconnaissance and scouting. This debilitating work, given the danger involved, poor nutrition and exposure while in the field, took its toll in the ranks over time.

Active as intelligence gatherers during Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Maryland Campaign in September 1862, the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, as the author points out, “quickly realized that their lances were no match for Southern carbines and cannons.” However, their growing reputation for gathering information in close proximity to the enemy prompted the newly appointed cavalry corps commander, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, to praise them as “the best [cavalry] regiment in the service.”

To their great relief, after the Chancellorsville Campaign in May 1863, the men of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry turned in their lances and were issued carbines instead.

Mr. Wittenberg describes in detail the Lancers’ involvement during the Gettysburg Campaign, particularly at the Battle of Brandy Station. In this, the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War, the Lancers bravely charged enemy positions on two occasions, sustaining over 100 casualties.

By the end of 1863, heavy campaigning, sickness and disease had severely reduced the Lancers to 200 men from their original strength of more than 1,000. Yet, as the author points out, the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry had become a highly respected and effective force.

When the spring campaign began in 1864 with Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in charge of the Union Army, the Lancers were now operating under cavalry commander Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan. During grueling combat beginning in May, the Lancers, having refitted and recruited over the winter, were continually in the field and suffered heavy losses.

The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry played a key role at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, in which the famed Rebel cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded. The Lancers would soon transfer to the Shenandoah Valley along with Gen. Sheridan, where they performed effective information gathering and screening duties.

Reduction in the size of the regiment from losses and termination of enlistments, however, meant that time was running out on it as a potent force. During the last months of the war, the regiment gamely hung on and was on hand at Appomattox to celebrate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender.

It should be noted that the author’s figure of 21,000 cavalrymen who fought at Brandy Station exceeds the official returns by some 3,000. Also, while he provides ample coverage of the Lancers’ reconnaissance and scouting operations, a more detailed discussion of information-gathering tactics and prisoner-interrogation techniques would have been welcomed. The book’s small print may be a handicap to comfortable reading for some.

Fortunately, this account unfolds with ample maps to guide the reader. Numerous photos of individual Lancers personalize and other illustrations enhance the narrative. An appendix lists the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry’s various commanders, command assignments and numerous engagements.

In “Rush’s Lancers,” Eric Wittenberg has effectively related the story of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry — men from all social classes who found common ground to fight for the Union cause.

As I said, I’m very pleased with this review. I think Tom’s critique is fair, and I also think that it’s comprehensive. This sort of feedback from knowledgeable peers is part of what makes me keep coming back for more.

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I wanted to offer a ringing endorsement of one of Chris Wehner’s projects. Chris runs a web site called Soldier Studies. Here’s the mission statement:

This site is dedicated to the preservation of American Civil War information, particularly the correspondence and diary entries of soldiers who served in the field and elsewhere. We hope that by providing a comprehensive and searchable archive of this information a more complete picture of one of the bloodiest chapters in American history can be better understood by researchers, historians, and students alike. Unlike other Civil War databases, this one will remain free and open to the public.

In the course of searching for primary source material for our study of the retreat from Gettysburg, I found three really outstanding accounts in the database on Chris’ site. But for the site, I never would have located those materials or had the opportunity to use them in our manuscript.

Once we get the manuscript done and turn it in to Ted Savas, I will go through my massive collection of material (I have multiple banker’s boxes full of primary source materials from 15+ years of serious researching) and see about contributing some of it to the web site.

In the meantime, do yourself a favor and check it out. There’s something useful and interesting there for almost anyone interested in the Late Unpleasantness. Thanks for what you do, Chris.

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My father had his stroke eight weeks ago yesterday. As I’ve said here before, when it first happened, he was almost 90% paralyzed on the right side of his body, his speech was a mess, he had a large cut in the vision in his right eye, and I fully expected that, at age 86, he would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and that he would have to spend the rest of his days in a nursing home. I had fully prepared myself for that probability, and was trying to find ways to make things easier for my mother. At his age, I never figured he would have sufficient recuperative power to (a) bounce back and (b) tolerate the very demanding rehab regime that accompanies the recovery from a stroke.

Since that time, he has made incredible strides. He also celebrated his 87th birthday on August 10.

He’s gotten back about 80% of the movement lost on the right side. He can walk very well with a walker, and a little bit without it. He’s gotten the use of his hand back, and even has enough fine motor skills back to eat with his right hand and to write a little bit. He can get in and out of bed without help. He can get in and out of chairs without help. As the blood from the hemorrhage continues to re-absorb, the doctors think he may see some more improvement, which would really be remarkable. The cut in his vision is still there, but it’s smaller, and they’re teaching him how to compensate for it. His speech, which was really a mess, is significantly impoved, and we all remain hopeful that it will continue to improve. I talked to him on the phone on Friday, and was pleasantly surprised at the progress. There are still a lot of things that can’t be understood, but the percentage of unintelligible versus intelligible has shifted to the point where I can now understand more than not (unless he’s really tired, at which time it’s pretty much impossible to understand anything he says).

I’m very pleased to say that he’s proven me quite wrong about the wheelchair, and now he’s also proven me quite wrong about the nursing home, too.

After a home assessment was done yesterday, he’s coming home next Tuesday. He’s being discharged from the nursing home to return home. I never thought that there would be any chance of that happening, but he’s made a remarkable recovery. He’s been very determined to work as hard as he could in order to come home, and it’s now paying dividends. At 87, he’s a tough old bird, and he apparently decided that it wasn’t time for him to quit just yet. I’m proud of him.

Thank you to everyone who expressed concern for his well-being and who kept us in your prayers. It is much appreciated, and it apparently paid off.

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