25 January 2006 by Published in: General musings 8 comments

Since the last post was generated by my participation in an on-line discussion group, and since these groups constitute a big part of my activity in the Civil War world, I thought I would follow that up with some additional thoughts about them.

By way of background, I’ve been involved in the Internet since 1996. My wife has a degree in computer science, and was intrigued by the nascent World Wide Web immediately upon its launch. We got our first dial-up account in 1996, and one of the very first things that I did was to subscribe to the Gettysburg Discussion Group, which was one of the very first of its sort. The GDG is owned by three brothers named Bob, Dennis, and Jack Lawrence, and the Lawrences have always pretty much set the gold standard for on-line discussion groups. Discussions there are normally quite cordial, and there are very few flame wars. The Brothers Lawrence do a fine job of keeping folks in line with firm but diplomatic moderation, and while my participation in the group ebbs and flows with my level of immersion in writing, I’ve been a member for most of the last ten years, although I did take a break for a time. At one time, when I was less busy and more active in the group, I was actually an elected trustee, which was a great honor. Dennis and Jack came to hear my talk to the Kansas City Civil War Roundtable last March, which was a nice surprise.

The biggest problem with the GDG is that its focus is, by definition, quite narrow. It means that the same topics get hashed over and over and over again, until they become ad nauseum. As one very good example, I’ve never found Pickett’s Charge the slightest bit interesting, nor do I care to discuss it or be involved in discussions of it. But, it comes up again and again. Or then there was one member who pretty much monopolized things for a while with inane postings about some ancestor of hers that fought there irrespective of whether anybody gave a damn. I very nearly left over that one.

At the same time, I’ve made lifetime friendships as a result. I can genuinely say that some of the people I’ve met there are some of the very best people I will ever have the honor of calling my friends. Several of them are now my business partners in Ironclad. One of them insisted, quite vigorously, that Susan and I stay with him and his wife when we last visited the L. A. area a few years back. Another friend, whom I first met through the GDG, and who lives in North Carolina, has become like a member of our family, and Susan and I value that relationship a great deal. We look forward to visiting with this person at least once per year a great deal. I met Dave Powell through the GDG. Dave and I have a lot in common, and we’ve become friends. Ironclad will be publishing one of Dave’s books, and Dave’s been a big help with research over the years. As a general rule, until I got overloaded with doing conferences and had to cut back, I ALWAYS enjoyed the GDG musters in Gettysburg, in part due to the fellowship with other people afflicted with this Civil War illness of ours.

In the interest of expanding things a bit, and to replace the Antietam Discussion Group, which imploded a few years back due to the lunacy of the group’s owner, Teej Smith and I started the Civil War Discussion Group, which follows the same format as the GDG, but which doesn’t have the restrictions of a single battle. That group has about 100 stalwart members, one of whom was Brian Pohanka. I’ve enjoyed it a great deal, and we’ve had a couple of terrific musters–one at Chancellorsville and another last May on Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign. I’ve tried to pattern my moderation after the way that the Lawrences moderate the GDG.

I then was enlisted to participate in a forum board group, from which I was inexplicably and unfairly excommunicated by the owner, perhaps because I refused to permit myself to be abused by other members of the group. I’ve never been given a satisfactory or sensible explanation of this by the group owner, and have given up on the idea of receiving one. In truth, I’m not all that upset about it–that particular forum has become the place where bizarre theories about the Battle of Gettysburg are espoused, and the person who espouses them is placed up on a pedestal. My thoughts on these bizarre new interpretations of the battle are well known and need not be repeated here. However, it was through this particular group that I met J. D. Petruzzi and Mike Nugent, and it is responsible for a number of what appear to be lifelong friendships that have grown into business relationships, too.

So, I went along with the formation of a competing new group that turned out to be nothing more than a con job by a master con man. Unfortunately, I put my imprimatur on this con man’s efforts, to my eternal embarrassment and dismay. Once I became aware of the magnitude of the fraud being perpetrated by him, I made the site disappear immediately, and his house of cards came crashing down. From the ashes of that group arose a successor that Susan and I started, the on-line forums version of the Civil War Discussion Group, which now has more than 300 members and is something of which I am quite proud.

I’ve also joined a couple of other e-mail discussion groups, including the one where I did the neo-Confederate bashing the other day.

My point in raising all of this is that, while one ends up kissing a lot of frogs along the way, my experiences with on-line discussion groups have generally been very positive, and they’ve led to some terrific long-term relationships. They also, in a very direct way, led to this blog, as Harry Smeltzer, who is a long-time CWDG member, turned me on to Dimitri Rotov’s blog, which, in turn, inspired me to do this. Thanks, Harry.

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Comments

  1. Mike Peters
    Wed 25th Jan 2006 at 5:12 pm

    Eric:

    I hear you loud & clear on this one!

    Because of the involvement of Barksdale’s boy vs. the 114th PA, in & around the Sherfy Farm, I have always wanted to read/study more re: the Mississippi regiments involved. This person, with her “out-of-leftfield” remarks & her constant reminder that her ancestor(s) fought with a certain Mississippi outfit, made me leery, as well as nauseous. Reading her inappropriate postings were like fingernails on a chalkboard. Made my glad that all personal computers come equipped with a delte key.

    Mike

  2. Wed 25th Jan 2006 at 6:37 pm

    Mike,

    That’s a very accurate description of how I reacted, too. :-)

    Eric

  3. Wed 25th Jan 2006 at 11:59 pm

    Eric,

    Know what you mean about GDG — it’s a good list, but the focus on a single battle invariably leads to lots of rehashing, as you said, and a micro-focus on certain aspects that gets to be a bit much (particularly when it deals with issues that can never be solved, only speculated about until the end of time).

    Some people make a hobby about studying nothing but Gettysburg, which I find very odd. It’s strikes me as strange that someone would be interested only in studying one theater, too, but restricting all reading to one battle really skews the overall picture. I tend to agree with Richard McMurry’s comments on the significance of Gettysburg. Not that it isn’t a fascinating battle, and a hauntingly powerful place to visit.

    Speaking of online groups, I feel compelled to put in a pitch for the Civil War Forum. It started as a section within CompuServe’s Military Forum about 15 years ago, or so, then became it’s own venue in the early 90′s. For ten years running, about 40 of us meet at a different battlefield each March, and we’ve maintained a pretty steady group of regulars for all those years. Several years ago CompuServe ditched the proprietary subscription requirement, and put their forums on the web with free access. We were happy to be kept separate when AOL bought CompuServe, and now it’s branded under Netscape.

    Our regulars stay on because of the cordial atmosphere (a well moderated lack of flaming), and for the input of knowledgeable members from casual buffs to historians. There’s lots of crossover, of course — we have many regulars from GDG, and also counted Brian among our core membership.

    I’ve checked out your discussion group — nicely done. It’s the first I’d heard of it, other than passing mention by Teej in our forum. Wasn’t sure what she was referring to until now.

    People can visit the CW Forum at http://community.netscape.com/civilwar
    Our annual conference is at Franklin & Nashville this March (with a side trip to Stones River). We still have seats open on the bus, but not for long.

    Dave Woodbury

  4. Thu 26th Jan 2006 at 10:25 am

    Dave,

    Thanks for the link. I hope that folks check out your forums.

    Eric

  5. Thu 26th Jan 2006 at 3:22 pm

    Eric,

    Just one little correction – you and I actually “met” on an older chat forum by a fella named Henry – if you recall that. I guess when you go back that many years, the memory fades! :-) I introduced you to Mike when I got an email from him through my website, asking about the 6th US Cavalry and your first book “Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions” which mentioned Mike’s ggrandfather. I passed Mike on to you, and the rest is history…

    I’ve been with Eric over the years through all of the boards, sites, etc, that he mentioned in the blog. To say a lot of “frogs” were kissed is an understatement. But I guess life is life – you have to go through a lot to grow up, learn lessons, and finally find the place you’re comfortable.

    And I think we’re there. Thank goodness, too – sometimes the view in the rearview mirror is a little ugly, eh Eric? :-)

    J.D.

  6. Thu 26th Jan 2006 at 3:30 pm

    JD,

    Now that you mention it, you’re absolutely right. I’d forgotten all about Henry’s char room. And you’re also right about Mike.

    As for the view in the rearview mirror, in my case, it was never all that pretty to begin with. :-)

    But, you’re absolutely right. We are the sum total of our experiences. It is, of course, a cliche to to say that, but it’s true.

    Eric

  7. Fri 27th Jan 2006 at 1:39 pm

    Thanks for the hat tip Eric. Right back at you.

    My problem with good, successful forums is in the number of postings per day/week. Very hard to keep up with the info or sustain a thread.

    Being the contrarian in a group will trigger a separate response to a single post from every active poster in the forum and each of these then becomes its own thread – a huge burden for the conscientious responder.

    Success in setting up a forum or joining one can work against you. – D

  8. Fri 27th Jan 2006 at 6:01 pm

    Dimitri,

    My pleasure.

    I absolutely agree with you about running a successful forum. After a couple of years of doing so, I think I’ve got a handle on it. Fortunately, my group is good enough that it requires very little in the way of maintenance or a lot of supervision. My group knows the rules and largely abides by it, which makes life easier.

    Being a contrarian myself, I certainly understand your point.

    Eric

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