Month:

February, 2008

We spent eleven hours on the road today. We left our hotel at 8:00 this morning and made our way up to Culpeper, which is about 80 miles from Richmond. We visited Rose Hill, where Judson Kilpatrick had his headquarters during the winter of 1863-1864, had a tour of the house, and then set out to follow the route of the raid.

Our next stop was Eley’s Ford, where the entire Federal column crossed the Rapidan River, and then on through Chancellorsville, through Spotsylvania, and on into the countryside. We covered part of Kilpatrick’s route and part of Dahlgren’s route. We made our way out into Goochland County, including stopping by Sabot Hill, the plantation of Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon. From there, we made our way down to the banks of the James River to see the spot where Dahlgren’s column failed to cross due to the flooded condition of the river. From there, we went on to Tuckahoe Plantation, and on into Richmond, where we covered Dahlgren’s fight at the gates of Richmond in greater detail than I have ever heard.

That was the end of the day’s travels. According to our bus driver, we covered 213 miles today. That’s a lot of ground to cover. We saw lots of things that I have never seen previously, some of which pertain to other actions (much of Kilpatrick’s route follows the route taken by Sheridan’s May 1864 Richmond Raid), and I now have a much better understanding of the action where Dahlgren received his repulse. Previously, I’d had to try to figure it out myself, and while I got most of it, I now have a solid understanding of the action, which is why I’m here.

I just got back from some delightful dinner conversation with fellow blogger Donald Thompson of Touch the Elbow, who’s also along for the ride. I always particularly enjoy meeting other bloggers, and I’m the one who’s responsible for Donald being along this weekend, so I wanted to make sure that I got to spend some time with him. We had a good talk about lots of things, and then it was time to call it a night. I’m going to tweak my Dahlgren manuscript a little bit to reflect some insights I got today while they’re still fresh in my mind, and then I think it will be time to call it a night.

We probably have another 200 miles and another 10 hours of travel and touring tomorrow……

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Greetings from Richmond. It’s almost 10:30 at night as I write this. I’ve been up since 4 AM, so I’m about half delirious and ready to go to sleep. I’m here for old friend Dr. Bruce Venter’s Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid tour. My flight left Columbus at 6:00 AM, so it’s been a long day. Today, I went to Five Forks, made a quick stop at Pamplin Park, visited the new museum at Tredegar–I meant to tour the museum, but some loyal readers of these rantings shanghaied me, and we ended up talking shop for an hour instead. Then, I picked up Bobby Krick at the Chimborazo Hospital site, which is where Bobby’s office is, and we went and visited a bunch of nifty 1864 cavalry battle sites. That took the entire afternoon, and then the program began this evening. I’ve managed to burn up 3/4 of a tank of gas in the rented PT Cruiser (I signed up for a subcompact and they gave me a PT Cruiser for the same rate) today driving around. Needless to say, I’m beat.

More tomorrow when I’m a little more coherent.

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Last week, I received an e-mail from one of the editorial assistants at the Syracuse University Press, asking me if I would be interested in doing a review of a book manuscript for them. The e-mail was addressed to “Professor Wittenberg”, so I had to let them know that I am but a humble lawyer and not a professional historian, and I offered to step aside if that was a problem.

They wrote back quickly, letting me know that they wanted me to proceed with the review. I don’t want to say what the book is about, as the review process is supposed to be confidential. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but they always prove to be interesting exercises. It’s actually rather flattering to think that a university press thinks enough of my opinion to not only ask me to review the manuscript, but to pay me $100 for doing so. I will start on it on the plane on Thursday, and will get through it just as quickly as I can.

It’s going to be an interesting exercise, and I’m looking forward to reading it. At the same time, Syracuse is not exactly known for prodigious output of books on the Civil War; a review of the Press’ on-line catalogue didn’t turn up a single Civil War book, although I will acknowledge that I didn’t do a greatly detailed review of the available titles. I guess I’m not sure why someone would submit a manuscript to a press that’s not known for expertise in the area covered by the manuscript, but, as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, said, “ours is not to wonder why, ours but to do or die.” And so I shall.

I will let everyone know what I think of it once I’ve had an opportunity to read the thing.

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Last evening, I got an e-mail from Ted Savas indicating that the page galleys for the retreat book were ready for us to review. This is close to the end of the process; all that’s really left is to finish the copyediting and for the book to be indexed, and it’s then ready to go to the printer. I spent several hours going through the galleys, which are 536 pages without the index, and finding the sorts of very routine corrections that I would expect to find in a page galley at this phase.

After all of that work, it’s always extremely rewarding to see the book laid out in a format that is very close to what the final product will look like when published, and that’s always exciting. It means that the end is in sight.

Ted’s having some bound galleys made of the uncorrected page proofs for submission to the History Book Club and the Military Book Club for consideration as selections. Both picked up my book Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and the Civil War’s Final Campaign , which was quite an honor. For reasons that I still don’t understand, they passed on Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, so we’re all hoping that they will pick up the retreat book and offer it at least as an alternative selection, but hopefully, as a main selection.

I will keep you all posted as the book grinds through the publication process and as the release date draws nearer.

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22 Feb 2008, by

Update

It has now been six weeks since I sent my letter to Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio, inquiring as to what the state intended to do to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Sadly, and as I actually expected, I have gotten absolutely no response. That just verifies what I had suspected all along, which is that Ohio is pretty much a historical wasteland.

I wish I could say that I am surprised by the lack of a response, but I can’t.

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21 Feb 2008, by

Being Prolific

J. D. has a post on his blog tonight responding to concerns about how we can turn out a quality book so soon after the publication of Plenty of Blame to Go Around. Some have expressed the concern that our retreat book might not be as good since it’s coming out only 18 months after the publication of POB.

J.D. addressed some of the issues, and I want to add to what he wrote.

First, and foremost, I have always been a prolific writer. I think that my track record speaks for itself along those lines. At the same time, I’ve also made it clear that I don’t particularly enjoy practicing law, and that my writing is my outlet and how I keep my sanity. Immersing myself in my writing is how I decompress from what is a very stressful and not particularly enjoyable job. The fact that I don’t have children makes it possible for me to spend most of my evenings writing when I’m in that mode. If I had kids, I can give you an ironclad guarantee that I would not be anywhere near as productive as I am. Finally, I have a short attention span, so when I get focused on something, I work it until it’s finished. Otherwise, there’s a real possibility that I may never go back to it. That’s how I manage to be as prolific a writer as I am.

At the same time, my work always seems to get good reviews, and a universal theme is the thoroughness of the research. There’s a reason for that: I am a very thorough researcher. Also, I constantly have more than one research project going at any given time. I first started researching the retreat from Gettysburg in 1992, when I began researching an article on John Buford that ultimately appeared in issue 11 of Gettysburg Magazine. I had my first tour of the retreat in 1994–a personal tour given to me by Ted Alexander. I’ve written about aspects of the retreat for years. I published an article on the fight at Monterey Pass in North and South magazine nearly 10 years ago. In short, I researched the retreat for more than 15 years. I have spent many hours on those fields and following the routes both with and without Ted Alexander, who is the dean of all things retreat. I know the terrain as a consequence. This is no Johnny-Come-Lately thing for me.

Here’s the history of this project. We had originally planned to do a volume on the retreat for Ironclad Publishing’s Discovering Civil War America Series. Consequently, four or five years ago, we started writing and eventually completed a 90,000 word manuscript. And then the manuscript just sat while it waited its turn in the production queue.

Once Ted Savas learned what we are capable of producing with POB and I approached him about publishing the retreat study, he jumped at the opportunity. I wasn’t happy with the 90,000 word manuscript, as I thought it didn’t have enough depth and didn’t cover things in the depth or level of detail that I wanted. However, within the parameters of the Discovering Civil War America Series, it had to be that way.

Entering into an agreement with Ted liberated the project. Ted pretty much gave us carte blanche to take the original 90,000 word manuscript and put the detail into it that it deserved. We had additional research to do (more on that in a moment), and then the new material had to be worked into the manuscript. We had about five months in which to get it all done.

Although I have made my vehement opposition to Google’s scanning of copyrighted works known plainly here, I likewise have made my support of Google’s making public domain works available on line well known. Using Google Book Search, Microsoft’s Live Book Search and the online collection at Archive.org made it possible for us to obtain a tremendous amount of primary source material in no time flat, as it was available right there at our collective fingertips. I literally printed out the pertinent pages of hundreds of books, so much so that I blew through a toner cartridge. This saved us months, and perhaps even a year of trying to track down the books to obtain the useful portions.

Once we finished that, it was a function of spending virtually every evening, two and three hours at a time, working diligently on incorporating the new material, such that when we got the final draft to Ted in December, the original 90,000 word manuscript had increased to a 135,000 word manuscript.

That’s how we were able to to produce what Ted Savas tells me will be a 550 page book in what might appear to be a very short period of time, but which really represents the better part of 15 years worth of work on my end. The fact that this book’s bibliography contains more than 800 separate references and that there are more than 1200 end notes to this book should put to rest any concerns about whether we were thorough in our research.

There’s an old cliche about working for years to become an overnight sensation. That description more or less applies to our efforts to put this book project together. I would not permit my name–or my hard-earned reputation–to be sullied by anything but something that I consider to be my best effort. I clearly think that this is the best work I’ve ever done, and I hope you will, too.

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19 Feb 2008, by

Damned Bad Luck

Now this is a prime example of damned bad luck….

Civil War buff killed in blast blamed on antique munitions

By Associated Press
Tuesday, February 19, 2008 – Updated 1h ago

RICHMOND, Va. – A man who sold Civil War relics that included munitions was killed by an explosion, and residents of the neighborhood were kept out of their homes today as experts looked for more explosives.

Samuel H. White, 53, was found in his backyard Monday by neighbors who had heard the blast, Chesterfield County police said.

Police Capt. Steve Neal said that what exploded was military ordnance, possibly dating from the Civil War. Authorities found unexploded military ordnance at his house, and on Tuesday they were still collecting and detonating explosives.

White’s business, Sam White Relics, advertised various relics for sale including Civil War artillery shells, cannonballs and bullets. His Web site says he would “disarm, clean, and preserve your Civil War period and earlier military ordnance” for about $35 each.

About two dozen nearby homes were evacuated as a precaution and police spokeswoman Ann Reid said the evacuation would remain in effect indefinitely.

Neighbor Brian Dunkerly told the Richmond Times-Dispatch the explosion hurled a chunk of metal weighing about 15 pounds that struck the roof of his front porch about one-quarter-mile from White’s house. He said no one was hurt, although the piece of metal shattered his glass front door, hit the floor inside and bounced to the ceiling before coming to rest in the center of his living room.

I guess that’s a guy who died doing something he loved…..

Hat tip to Dan Mallock for bringing this to my attention.

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C. E. Peck of the 15th New York Cavalry, on the role of horse soldiers:

“Cavalry is the whirlwind of war. Batteries thunder and crush – – infantry forms the conflicts, surge and shock, but it is the charge of horse – – a wild erratic horse – – that seems the very tempest of the strife. Half man, half brute, it knows no fear – – an awful swell of carnage and commotion – – a terrible, relentless deluge of trampling hoofs and hewing steel. But as magnificent as are the rush and clash of the cavalry in the crucial moment of a victory, not less of danger, not less of duty, not less of service are in its constant, tireless movements, in the skirmish and the foray, as the blind force of strategy, and guardian of an army.”

Good stuff.

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We have five or six Barnes & Noble stores in Columbus. A couple of them are rather small and occupy spots in strip shopping centers. One of them is quite large indeed. It’s right across the driveway from a favorite restaurant of ours for Sunday brunch. We went there for brunch today, and after eating, went across the street to the Barnes & Noble store. I wandered back to see if there was anything new in the world of Civil War history books, and was horrified to see that the Civil War section had shrunk once more, down to three shelves. It used to be an entire section of shelves and one or two in the next section, but now, it’s not half a section.

I live about six miles from this store, and they didn’t have a single copy of any of my titles there. Never mind that I’m a local author who regularly visits their store. I know it’s all about business and all, but I just can’t help being terribly offended by it. There have been times in the past–when the store had a meaningful Civil War section–when they had several of my titles in stock, and even had multiple copies of a couple of them. Today, nothing.

By comparison, we have two Borders stores in Columbus. One is a free-standing store that’s quite large, and the other is in a strip shopping center. The last time we visited one of them (a couple of weeks ago), there was about a section and a half of Civil War books, even including some obscure titles. They had three of my titles in stock, and two of them had multiple copies. What’s interesting is that the Borders store is about the same size as the Barnes & Noble store in terms of square footage, so they have similar quantities of shelf space for inventory.

It makes for a fascinating contrast in marketing strategies. Borders is, I think, much more interested in serving the interests/needs of their customers, while Barnes & Noble is very much a “what have you done for me lately” kind of place. I’ve always tended to lean toward Borders over Barnes & Noble, and the persistent shrinking of the Civil War section has pretty much clinched it for me. From now on, while I may periodically visit the Barnes & Noble store when we’re in the area, I will reserve my book buying for my visits to Borders. Barnes & Noble probably wouldn’t care even if they knew, but refusing to buy anything there is my little way of protesting the fact that Civil War literature doesn’t even get as much consideration as books on conflicts in foreign lands that never involved the U. S, or vital American interests.

And that’s just plain wrong.

We used to have a really cool little independent book store here in town, but it got driven out by the combination of the big boys and rent that was too high to sustain the operation. That store ALWAYS maintained a good inventory of Civil War books, and its passing was much mourned by me. If it was still around, I would do all of my buying there, as I did during the short time that the store operated, which was less than a year.

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17 Feb 2008, by

NASCAR

Warning: this is an off-topic rant that has nothing to do with the Civil War.

Today is the Daytona 500, the opening race of NASCAR season. I can’t possibly think of anything that I would want to do less than sit and watch a NASCAR race on television. Guys turning left for 2.5 hours in cars that are supposed to be stock cars, but which are anything but. I know that NASCAR is popular, but God in heaven, I cannot, for the life of me understand why. Perhaps these are my northern biases coming through, but I just don’t get it.

I cannot, for instance, fathom sitting in the grandstands having your hearing damaged watching a bunch of guys going around in circles and doing nothing but turning left. I cannot fathom sitting and watching one of these races on television. I’d rather do something really fun and fascinating, like watching paint dry or grass grow. Or the old favorite, watching snow melt. Those activities would be at least as much fun, and just as interesting to me.

And then there’s the whole idea of including NASCAR as a sport. I will grant you that it takes skill to drive one of those cars. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s a stretch beyond reason to say that these guys are athletes. They sit in a car. I sit in a car, but that doesn’t make me an athlete. A commuter, yes. But an athlete, no.

I recognize that it’s a cultural phenomenon and that I might be in the minority in my opinions about NASCAR, but I just cannot, for the life of me, begin to comprehend the fascination with it. I don’t get it, and I never will. And if that makes me some sort of an anomaly then I can live with that.

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