15 June 2006 by Published in: Union Cavalry 4 comments

When we were in Gettysburg a couple of weekends ago, J. D. Petruzzi and I met up with Al Ovies, a fellow cavalry historian from Miami. Al was up north to see some cavalry battlefields, but more importantly, to do some research at the United States Army Military History Institute in Carlisle and also at the Gettysburg National Military Park archives.

Not having worked on anything specifically Gettysburg-related in quite a while (other than the Stuart’s Ride project, that is), I hadn’t checked the park archives for new material in several years. Al spent a couple of days there, and discovered a fragment of a memoir by Andrew D. Jackson of Co. G, 6th Michigan Cavalry, that had been donated by one of Jackson’s descendants. The descendant is planning on publishing the memoir, so only a fragment was there, and it has a use restriction on it, meaning that it can’t be copied without the permission of its owner. In other words, it’s just there as a research tool that can’t be used substantively without permission.

Al transcribed a few bits of it and sent those bits on to me. I read them and said, “wow!” Jackson’s account of the July 2 Battle of Hunterstown is really spectacular. Consequently, I decided to do a little detective work, and I tracked down the owner. I wrote to him, and we’ve been corresponding. I’ve offered to help, and he’s given J. D. and me permission to quote from the Gettysburg portion of the memoir in one of our upcoming projects.

He sent those chapters, as well as the chapter that deals with another favorite subject of mine, Sheridan’s June 1864 Trevilian Raid, today. I’m absolutely blown away by the detail in Jackson’s memoir, which is based on his daily diary and letters written at the time. His account of the Battle of Trevilian Station, for instance, is without question the most detailed treatment of the 6th Michigan’s participation in this two-day slugfest I have ever seen, and I have literally looked at hundreds of accounts. There’s new material in here on Hanover, Hunterstown, East Cavalry Field, and during the retreat from Gettysburg that is really a first-rate addition to the body of knowledge. I would be so bold as to say that it may well be THE single finest enlisted man’s memoir arising from the Civil War that I have ever seen.

Fortunately, the owner is getting the memoirs ready to be published, and he expects to finish them up some time this fall. I’ve offered to help, as this is a piece that DEFINITELY deserves to be published. So, if all goes well, this account will be available to the general public much sooner than later, and then the use restriction will become irrelevant. He then intends to donate the original documents to a university for posterity, and so that others will have the benefit of them. That’s not only very generous, it’s really quite selfless; it would be very easy to simply hang on to the originals and have them simply disappear after a while.

Of course, it’s always frustrating when these sorts of things surface when it’s too late to use them as we might like to. I wish I could count the number of times that people have given me things AFTER a project is completed and it’s too late to do anything about it that leave me shaking my head and asking where that person was when I really needed them. That, of course, is a purely emotional and selfish reaction. At the same time, I realize that it’s unavoidable and that each project reaches a point where you just have to say, “I’ve given my best shot,” and declare it finished. I will never get every possible source, and I realize that. Still, it’s frustrating.

That brand new, previously unknown primary sources such as this one still surface is part of what I find so fascinating about the study of the Civil War. That this particular one was written by a lowly sergeant and not a famous general makes it all the more appealing. I edited a similarly wonderful memoir by a private of the 5th Michigan Cavalry a few years ago, and it had also been buried in family archives until one descendant got ambitious and decided to do something about it.

That accounts this spectacular still turn up in people’s dusty attics and in odd places amazes me. We can only hope that they will continue to do so.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Chuck Siegel
    Fri 16th Jun 2006 at 10:45 am

    Eric,

    This sounds like it will be a classic when published….keep us informed as it moves forward. On another note, I went to Amazon to check on your upcoming book on Stuart’s Ride, but found Amazon is no longer taking pre-orders. Is the book still coming out in June? I’m planning a trip to the Hanover and Hunterstown battlefields in July and would love to have it before I go.
    Regards,

  2. Brian S.
    Fri 16th Jun 2006 at 12:45 pm

    I’ve met a few authors in my travels to Gettysburg and some of them have made the same comment. They make their greatest discovery AFTER they’ve been published. Two questions, Any update as to when Stuart’s Ride is coming out and will you be in Gettysburg over the 4th of July signing your book? 🙂

  3. Fri 16th Jun 2006 at 1:48 pm

    Chuck and Brian,

    Sadly, no. The release has been delayed for reasons that are annoying as hell but unavoidable.

    The History Book Club and the Military Book Club have both expressed interest in the Stuart’s Ride book as a main selection, but they’re taking their sweet time in making that decision. It’s significant because it directly impacts the number of books that get printed. The book clubs do their own printing, so Ted Savas has to wait for them to make up their minds. Obviously, if they pick it up, he orders less, and if they don’t he orders more. They very much have their own timetable and there’s not much we can do about it. We’ve been stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for them, for six weeks now. I’m told that we should have a decision any moment now. Apparently, the Military Book Club has made its decision and is waiting on the History Book Club decision. Again, that impacts the number of books to print for them, too, which is why we have to wait. It sucks, and its frustrating as hell, but it’s out of my control.

    Brian, candidly, there are few places that I can think of that are less appealing to me July 4th weekend than Gettysburg. Having been there for the anniversary a couple of times in the past, I decided the last time, never again. Too many people, not enough parking spaces, not enough hotel rooms, and not enough restaurant tables. Good luck to you if you’re going….

    Eric

  4. Chuck Paris
    Mon 03rd Jan 2011 at 8:25 am

    Did the Jackson memoir ever get published?

Add comment

*

Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress

Warning: substr() expects parameter 3 to be long, string given in /home/netscrib/public_html/civilwarcavalry/wp-content/themes/wittenberg/footer.php on line 54