30 August 2006 by Published in: General musings 10 comments

The Dahlgren bio is the first full-length biography that I’ve written solely on my own. That he died in combat at 21 years, 11 months made it relatively easy from the perspective of there being a very finite period of time to cover. The fact that I managed to get 100,000 words out of it should tell just how jam-packed this young man’s life actually was, and how much he accomplished in terms of military deeds in less than two years in the army.

So, the bigger question–as yet unanswered–is how much of a challenge it is going to be to tackle the life of someone who lived a long full life and accomplished many things in the years after the Civil War. Frankly, that’s something that I have never yet attempted.

I’ve previously mentioned my very long term interest in General David M. Gregg, who settled in my home town of Reading, Pennsylvania after the end of the Civil War. Gregg resigned his commission under some very uncertain circumstances in February 1865, just before the end of the war, and then settled in Reading. He lived until 1916, and reached the ripe old age of 83, and had a long and successful career after the war that included diplomatic service. There are two large collections of his papers–one at the Library of Congress and the other at the Berks County Historical Society in Reading, PA–and an unpublished memoir of the General’s pre-war service in the west written by his son. A biography of David Gregg presents a very different challenge than writing a biography of a young man who died in battle before his 22nd birthday, the primary difference being that Gregg’s life was not ensnarled in controversy like Dahlgren’s was.

Gregg has long needed a good full-length biography. There has only ever been one published, and it’s 22 years old, only 136 pages long, and self-published. I own a copy. It’s not a good book. Gregg deserves much better.

Some time ago, I decided to tackle a full-length biography of Gregg, and I’ve started the process of gathering material. It’s going to be a number of years before I’m ready to put pen to paper, but I’m looking forward to the challenge of trying to tackle his life.

The same thing holds true for Theodore J. Wint, except for one thing. Although Wint served in the Army for 43 years, there are no known collections of his papers to be found anywhere, whereas Gregg left a large legacy of writings in his own words. Trying to cobble together a full-length biography of Wint poses different challenges. Most of his career was spent fighting Indians under Ranald MacKenzie–something I know little about and will have to educate myself about–and then fought in Cuba, the Philippines, and in China during the Boxer Rebellion. In order to cover his life in detail, I’m going to have learn a great deal about a lot of things that I presently know next to nothing about.

So, it’s going to be a real challenge. But it’s one I welcome.

Scridb filter


  1. Valerie Protopapas
    Thu 31st Aug 2006 at 3:42 pm

    Do you know anything about the circumstances that caused Gregg to resign his commission at war’s end?

    You know, I remember Tolkien writing in The Hobbit that pleasant times can be written about in a few lines while dark, unpleasant and dangerous events require far more words with which to enlighten the reader. The sad thing is that most readers enjoy a few words of ‘good times’ in any book but much prefer combat, danger, controversy and scandal. That (apparently) is what sells books.

    I have never done it, but a study of biographies would probably show more written about villains or at least controversial subjects than about saints unless it is someone of immense interest (like Lee or Grant) and even then, stories about Grant’s drinking and Lee’s failure at Gettysburg probably garner more interest than studies on tactics or recitations of a happy home life. It’s the nature of the beast, I suppose. As the kid in the Sunday school play said bitterly, ‘The snake has all the lines!’

  2. Paul Whitmore
    Thu 31st Aug 2006 at 8:15 pm

    How in the world do you find time to be a lawyer, historian, author, and blogger?!

  3. Mike Peters
    Thu 31st Aug 2006 at 8:47 pm


    I’ve been asking him that for a while. Not to mention publisher, husband, speaker. etc. He is one disciplined dude!


  4. Thu 31st Aug 2006 at 9:51 pm


    Gregg never said.

    The regimental surgeon of the 6th Ohio Cavalry claimed that Gregg’s nerves were shot. That may have been, but I believe it’s that Gregg had seen how Sheridan had trashed the careers of his friends and West Point classmates Averell and Torbert, and was unwilling to serve under Sheridan again. I think he resigned in order to avoid serving under Sheridan’s command again.


  5. Thu 31st Aug 2006 at 9:51 pm


    It’s all a matter of self-discipline.


  6. Valerie Protopapas
    Fri 01st Sep 2006 at 8:57 am

    I begin to see why you dislike Sheridan. If I understand it aright (and that doesn’t happen often), Sheridan didn’t like Southerners and at the Point spent a lot of time making the lives of the cadets from that part of the country miserable when possible. Torbert was a Southerner, I believe, so perhaps that was the cause of Sheridan’s dislike of the man. I know nothing of Averell but it may be that he showed too much promise as a commander for a man like Sheridan. Funny, there are generals like Grant and Lee who want to surround themselves with top-flight men and then there are generals who can’t stand the competition. Was that part – or maybe all – of Sheridan’s problem?

    It’s sad though as Gregg was a West Pointer and therefore had intended a military career as opposed to those who found themselves as soldiers by virtue of circumstance and thus welcomed a return to their former more peaceful pursuits.

  7. Rob Wick
    Fri 01st Sep 2006 at 3:29 pm

    At least you have material in the Library of Congress among other places for a biography on Gregg. In 12 years of studying Everton Conger, I’ve been able to collect about 11 letters, only four or five of which were written by him!
    Best wishes

  8. Paul Whitmore
    Sat 02nd Sep 2006 at 11:47 pm

    Umm…thanks…I was hoping for something a bit more constructive as to how one can work toward the goal of “yet another book” while trying to maintain both employment and sanity. “Be Disciplined” doesn’t really get one toward answers on the mechanics of such an undertaking.


  9. Valerie Protopapas
    Sun 03rd Sep 2006 at 2:17 pm

    It helps to LIKE what one is doing, or, in the alternative, it helps that what one is doing is credibly keeping one from doing something one DOESN’T like doing. For instance, I get a lot of routine housework done when I have to clean the refrigerator because I’m more than willing to do anything BUT clean the frig. On the other hand, the three hundred various art and/or craft projects I have are always LOADS more fun and stimulating than moving the dust about or picking up after the family. So I can do TONS of crafts, just don’t look at the house or expect dinner.

    Frankly, as noted, a great deal has to do with how well one likes what one has to do. If it’s fun or intellectually challenging, the matter is easily handled. If it’s dull as ditchwater (like housework et al.), then it requires a great deal of self-discipline (and a few cups of tea or something stronger) to get the will to ‘carry on’. At least that’s how it is for me!

  10. Wed 06th Sep 2006 at 10:00 pm


    If you go back into the archives of this blog, you will find that I have discussed these topics at great length.


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