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September, 2011

25 Sep 2011, by

Passages

I had hoped to post this yesterday, but Susan and I had a wedding to attend, and that prohibited me from doing much of anything that wasn’t associated with that wedding. Consequently, I didn’t get this posted yesterday.

Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of J.E.B. Stuart’s promotion to brigadier general, thereby beginning the career of “the greatest cavalryman ever foaled on the North American continent.”

Yesterday was also the sixth anniversary of the first post on this blog. These six years have been great fun, and I have so enjoyed my interactions with all of you that this blog has become a significant factor in my life. I thank each and every one of you for that, and I know that I would miss our interactions if they were no long part of my routine. I never planned or expected that this blog would much more than a chance for me to share a few random thoughts, and I surely never expected it to still be around six years and 1,200 posts later.

I thank all of you–and all of the sponsors of this blog–for your support and friendship over the years. There will be more to come…..

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My old friend Terry Johnston approached me last year to talk about an idea he had. I’ve know Terry for fifteen years now, and he’s a good guy and an excellent historian in his own right. That he’s a Philadelphia sports fan doesn’t hurt any either. I had a lot of interactions with Terry while he was the editor of North & South before Keith Poulter ran it into the ground, and Terry did an excellent job in that role.

Terry came to me last year and said that he was thinking about starting his own, new mass market Civil War magazine. We talked about lots of things, and I failed to talk him out of it. I’ve been consulting with him all along, and Im pleased to announce that the first issue of the magazine is out.

The new magazine is called The Civil War Monitor, and it’s intended to be a new look at the Civil War. The first issue has a number of good articles, with a nice blend of tactical detail, political history, and social history. The presentation is handsome, and I’m very impressed with the first issue. Congratulations, Terry.

I also introduced Terry to a client of mine, Blind Acre Media, and together, the folks at Blind Acre and Terry have created an excellent website to go along with the print edition of the magazine.The website includes some additional content from the magazine, and will grow as the magazine does.

The Civil War Monitor is off to a great start, and I can only hope that it will hammer the last nails into the moldy corpse of North & South, which has been dying a long, slow, painful death for a long time now. Good luck to Terry with his new venture, and I hope you will check it out. I’m honored to have played a small role in its launch. I’ve added a link to the magazine’s website.

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I got the cover art for my new book, The Battle of White Sulphur Springs: Averell Fails to Secure West Virginia, today. It’s below. See what you think:

If you click on the image itself, you will get a larger version of it that is far more legible. I should note that the text in the box on the back cover is still in draft form and is still being tweaked. It is NOT the final copy for the back cover.

The book is scheduled to be released about Halloween.

I’ll be happy to take orders for signed copies for those who are interested. Please use the “contact me” button above to let me know that you want a copy, and I can then let you know how to proceed from there.

I’m excited to see it in print.

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Fleetwood Hill, located near the hamlet of Brandy Station, a few miles from Culpeper, Virginia, is probably THE single most historically significant piece of ground in the American Civil War. No piece of ground was fought over more often, and no armies traversed a piece of ground more often, than Fleetwood Hill. It’s important to understand why Fleetwood Hill was so important in order to understand why those of us who care about the Brandy Station battlefield were so upset this spring when the Brandy Station Foundation sat on its hands and permitted a chunk of the battlefield to be destroyed.

Bud Hall, who has devoted much of his adult life to saving this ground, has written an excellent piece of the significance of Fleetwood, and has given me permission to park it here as a permanent page on this blog. The article can be found here, and I commend it to you.

The numbers in bracket are to the end notes, which can be found at the bottom of the article.

Thanks to Bud for his generosity in sharing it with us and for allowing me to host it here.

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18 Sep 2011, by

To Appomattox

Last week, I was asked to join the list of historical consultants for the upcoming mini-series To Appomattox. The series is being written and produced by Michael Beckner, who has been the driving force behind a number of popular movies and television series. The series is intended to focus on the people who fought the Civil War, and not necessarily on the battles themselves. The series has Ulysses S. Grant as its focus, but it is as comprehensive a look at the Civil War as any eight-hour series could hope to be. All of the major engagements east of the Mississippi River are covered, some in more detail than others.

There has been some criticism of this series because it will include cameo appearances by a number of NASCAR drivers and country music performers. I have to admit that I had some of the same questions then too, but I now understand. The NASCAR drivers and country music performers are all folks who have a deep and abiding interest in the Civil War, and many, if not most, of them have ancestors who fought. They’re enthusiastic supporters and participants in order to pay tribute to their ancestors, and I respect that motivation a great deal. None of them will have a major role; serious, talented actors like William Petersen will play the important roles.

The cast associated with this series largely consists of A-list talent. Again, many of them had ancestors who fought, and many are involved to pay tribute to those ancestors. As just one example, Bill Paxton, who is a well-respected actor, has been cast to play Stonewall Jackson. If you didn’t know the back story, that casting choice might be easy to criticize. However, when you learn that Bill Paxton had an ancestor who fought under Jackson in the Stonewall Brigade, then the choice makes a lot of sense. My understanding is that he asked to play Jackson as a result. I believe that may of the other cast members have the same or similar motivations.

Some of the best known names presently working in Civil War history have signed on as historical consultants for this series, including Ed Bearss, Gordon Rhea, Scott Hartwig, Mark Snell, and lots of others, and my good friend and writing partner, J. D. Petruzzi, is the primary historical advisor. All of us are determined to make certain that this story is told as accurately and as fully as possible within the operative parameters. I know that’s my primary motivation here, and I likewise know it’s J.D.’s because we’ve discussed it at length.

I have read the scripts of all eight episodes and have provided feedback on all. I can’t get into specifics, so I won’t. You will just have to take my word for it that I’m impressed with Michael Beckner’s devotion to getting it right and to telling the story as accurately as possible. In some places, some literary license sis needed to keep things moving along, and I’m sure that some hardcore Civil War buffs will be bothered by that. However, while I have pointed out a few things, I am generally very impressed with the level of accuracy involved and with how well Mr. Beckner has portrayed the interpersonal relationships between the key players to this Greek tragedy.

Filming begins in April and will continue for several months. The series is planned to air in 2013. I’m honored to have been asked to be part of it, and I have taken my responsibility of trying to insure that the story is told as accurately as possible very seriously. As more details become available, I will pass them along.

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15 Sep 2011, by

A eulogy

On Sunday, September 18, 2011–three days from today–the final Borders stores will close. Most of them have already shuttered up and gone dark. The last two Michigan stores close today. That’s especially sad, as Borders was born and based in Ann Arbor. The last store in Las Vegas also closes today. The last Chicago store closed yesterday, and the liquidator donated 8000 books to the Chicago schools. For those of us who love books, this is nothing but sad news.

I spent many an hour in our local Borders stores in the 20+ years that the company conducted business in Columbus, and God only knows how much money. I enjoyed the ambiance of the stores: LOTS of books on lots of subjects, nice, comfortable chairs to sit and browse the books, nice bistros to get a snack or something to drink. The stores always had excellent inventories and selections of Civil War books, which I always very much appreciated, usually including at least one of my titles and usually more. I could–and did–spend many hours in Borders, and I have felt a persistent sense of loss since our local stores closed several months ago during the first major round of store closures.

Sadly, the story of the failure of Borders may never be told. It is a sad tale of bad business decisions, a terrible choice of CEO in hiring someone who knew nothing about the bookselling business, really unfavorable leases (the flagship Chicago store had monthly rent of $1,000,000 per month–you have to sell a LOT of books to meet that nut), staying in the CD business too long when the music business has changed dramatically due to the popularity of devices like the iPod, poor technology–whomever thought that it was a smart move to partner with Amazon, Borders’ primary competitor, for online sales wasn’t terribly bright, and whomever missed the boat on developing and marketing an e-reader to compete with the Nook and the Kindle was just plain stupid. Finally, Borders was a victim of the changing paradigm of the book publishing business, which is filled with uncertainty as to what the future holds. Thus, the Borders saga is a cautionary tale, both of how NOT to run a business, but also of how to run a business into the ground, and its failure was probably inevitable. There are many lessons to be learned from its failure. However, the inevitable failure of Borders is nevertheless a sad thing for anyone who loves books.

Simon & Schuster, which was Borders’ biggest creditor and which recently negotiated a more favorable deal with Barnes & Noble, put the kaibosh on a potential sale of the corpse of Borders to the Book-of-the-Month Club, which was going to dip a toe into the water of brick and mortal retail sales. It also nixed the sale of more than 30 of the Borders leases to Books-a-Million in order to cozy up to Barnes & Noble.

And so, we’re left with Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million. I detest Barnes & Noble. The stores carry only a tiny percentage of the incredible inventory that Borders maintained and it’s a quintessential big box retailer that cares nothing about the customers. The last time that I was in the local B & N superstore, it had about 30 Civil War titles in its inventory–that’s it. Even though I am a local author who lives about five miles from the store, they rarely ever have any of my stuff, even in the local interest section. It really makes me angry, if the truth be told. Books-a-Million does not maintain a presence in Central Ohio, so our only option is B&N, meaning that it looks like I will be doing the overwhelming majority of my future book buying through Amazon.

The only good thing that may come out of the death of Borders is a rebirth for the small, independent bookseller, as this article points out. No matter how popular electronic gadgets like the Nook or Kindle may become, old school guys like me will always prefer to hold the real thing. I just prefer the look and smell and feel of a real book, and I will always prefer them to my Nook. The failure of big box Borders opens the door for the independent booksellers to cater to the likes of me, and I hope that they do. I would dearly love to have an alternative to Barnes & Noble in Columbus, and I will continue to buy books from the independent booksellers (such as the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop, which is a sponsor of this blog).

Fare thee well, Borders. You will be missed.

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12 Sep 2011, by

Further update

Ted Savas informed me today that the new edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions is at the printer now, and that books will be available in about three weeks. If anyone is interested in a signed copy, please contact me via the “Contact me” button above. The new edition will retail for $17.95, which is still a bargain price.

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….Pete, because I want him to have something good to read while deployed in Uganda.

Runners up are Bob Hamann, Sarah Adler, Rae-Ann McDonald, Dennis, Paul LaCroix, and Joe Fafara. Runners up will get a free copy of my other Gettysburg volume, Protecting the Flank: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863.

All winners and runners up should contact me using the “Contact me” button. I will need the address you want the book sent to. Thanks for playing!

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The city council of Lexington, VA has voted, 4-1, to ban the display of the Confederate battle flag on flagpoles owned by the city. Here’s a link to some media coverage of the issue. Kevin Levin has also had quite a bit of coverage of this issue on his blog over the past few days.

What’s important to note here is that this ban applies ONLY to flying the Confederate battle flag from PUBLICLY owned flagpoles. NOWHERE does the ordinance say that the battle flag is banned from any sort of private display. Indeed, such a restriction would be a flagrant violation of the First Amendment. However, nothing in the First Amendment says that the city has to permit the Confederate battle flag to be flown on publicly owned flagpoles.

In spite of that, and surely not to my surprise, the Lost Causers and neo-Confederates are screaming bloody murder about this, intentionally misconstruing the ordinance to make a ridiculous emotional argument. The image below demonstrates precisely what I mean:

I wish I could say that this sort of emotional, manipulative and wholly inaccurate sort of thing would follow very quickly, but I would be lying if I did. Calling for violence when locally elected officials make a policy decision is NEVER appropriate, but here we have “call to arms”. This is grossly inappropriate.

There’s no place for this sort of thing in a rational discussion, but here it is nonetheless…..

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The following poem about the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station appeared in the Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States, Vol. 49, July-August 1911, page 142. It was originally published in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat,, date unknown.

The Cavalry Veteran

This sabre-cut on my forehead scored?
I picked it up at Beverly Ford
The day we turned “Jeb” Stuart’s flank
And hurled him from the river bank.
It was parry and thrust with a hearty will
As we fought for the guns on Fleetwood Hill,
While over the fields and through the pines
Backward and forward surged the lines;
Twelve thousand men in a frenzied fray;
Charge and rally and mad melee —
Oh, the crash and roar as the squadrons met,
The cheers and yells — I can hear them yet!
But we’d forced the fords, so our work was done,
And we galloped away ere set of sun.

With thanks to Clark B. “Bud” Hall for sharing this with me. Good stuff.

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