12 November 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 4 comments

I’ve had a couple of dozen articles on the Civil War and four scholarly articles on the law published over the course of my writing career. Writing articles is actually how I got started. When I started law school, I had already finished all of the course work for my master’s degree in international affairs (it was a four-year, dual degree program). During my second year of law school, I wrote my master’s thesis on a piece of legislation, the Arms Export Control Act of 1976. I was able to use my thesis to satisfy my law school scholarly writing requirement. My thesis ended up being published in a law review, and that got me started with doing serious writing for publication.

I graduated from law school in 1987. By 1991, I’d had four scholarly pieces on the law published in various law reviews. At that point, I said, “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt” and realized that I was bored with writing about the law. Feeling the need to write in order to keep my incredibly restless–probably ADD-afflicted–mind busy, I decided to try my hand at writing something on the Civil War, with which I had a life-long fascination and a voracious appetite. Other than the legal writing that I do for my job, I’ve never written another scholarly piece on the law since then, at least in part because I can’t find something that interests me enough to invest the amount of time and effort required.

Hence, in 1989, I wrote an absolutely dreadful article about Joshua L. Chamberlain that was published in the long-defunct Civil War magazine. It was actually published in June 1992, the same week that Susan and I got married. Candidly, I’m not sure how it got published, because it’s not good, and I had not learned about how to go about doing primary source research.

The next one was on the Battle of Monocacy. In the spring of 1992, I made my first visit to the Monocacy National Battlefield, which had just become a national park. In fact, at that time, it was part of the Antietam unit and had not yet become its own park. There was absolutely no interpretation whatsoever available other than the handful of monuments put up by the vets. I knew next to nothing about the fight there, and decided to try to educate myself. I bought a couple of books and learned what I could, but it left me wanting more.

I learn by teaching myself. I teach myself by researching and writing; the process of immersing myself into a project forces me to learn the substance of the material. So, that’s how I learned the Battle of Monocacy. And my second article was then published.

And so on.

I had about a dozen articles published in various magazines before my first book was published in 1998. By then, I’d learned the ins and outs of doing primary source research, and was growing familiar with what worked and what didn’t work. I find that writing is like anything else–the more of it one does, the better one gets at it. For me, it was a matter of finding my legs and learning how to write history and not the boring legal arguments that have paid the household bills for the last 19 years. As I read my current stuff and compare it to that first article on Joshua Chamberlain, it’s shocking to see just how far my writing has come.

I’ve been very focused on writing books for a long time now. Those of you who either know me or who read this blog regularly know of my Gettysburg love-hate relationship. Try as I might, I continue to be drawn to this battle, and no matter what, I always return to it. I’ve always enjoyed writing stuff for Gettysburg Magazine, but for seven or eight years, I refused to do it due to conflict that I had with the former owner of the magazine that prompted me to declare that I would never write anything for it again for so long as he continued to own it. I actually had one article written on John Buford’s withdrawal from Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 that never got submitted for that reason. I wrote it specifically for that magazine, and then sat on it for years.

Since the former owner died earlier this year and the magazine has been sold to Andy Turner, the long-time editor of the magazine, things have changed dramatically. There’s no longer any reason for me not to write for Gettysburg Magazine. J. D. and I did an article for Andy on Corbit’s Charge at Westminster, Maryland that will appear in the next issue, and I have submitted that article on Buford’s withdrawal from Gettysburg that I’ve been sitting on for years. It also unloosed the series of article ideas that I’ve been sitting on for years. When I asked the new publisher about them, he liked all of my ideas.

So, I’m taking a little break from book writing to work on some of these articles that have been cluttering up my brain for too long. I will feel MUCH better once I’ve finally scratched those particular itches. I’m working on the first one, on the role of William H. Boyd and his Company C of the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign. This is one of those projects that I’ve kicked around for years–and invested a lot of time and effort into researching–but which had no other viable outlet for publication other than Gettysburg Magazine. I’m enjoying finally indulging a story I’ve wanted to tell–and which has fascinated me–for years.

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Comments

  1. Randy Sauls
    Mon 13th Nov 2006 at 12:25 pm

    Eric:

    Haven’t posted in a while but your comments made me curious.
    A couple of questions: 1) Did you make a concious decision to focus on books and stay away from articles? 2) Do you find that the two efforts are mutually exlusive? I would think the massive amount of research and writing involved in preparing a book manuscript would preclude any other serious research and writing effort. For instance, I cannot imagine writing two books at one time, or for that matter, a book and an article, unless the article was a short piece derived from research for the book. Then again, I generally like to finish one thing before moving on to the next; I know that’s a matter of personal preference. Just curious. Look forward to the articles.

    Randy

  2. Michael Aubrecht
    Mon 13th Nov 2006 at 1:32 pm

    Looking forward to your articles Eric. I find that I am the opposite, as I seem to be spending more and more (and more) time researching and writing articles than I do on my book projects. Perhaps that is why book #3 is two years and counting, and I haven’t published any books in a couple years. I understand some of the more “seasoned subscriber’s” reactions to the “reuse” of book material in articles, but let’s be honest here, we are all trying to keep sales up. I also believe that these articles are essential marketing tools that introduce the work to those who are unfamiliar with it. This often leads to more books being accepted by publishers, so one aspect can ultimately can feed the other, and vice-versa.

    On a side note, I spent Veterans Day at the MOC w/ my friends from the Lee’s Lts. group (I posted some pics over on my blog) and I was discussing your latest book “Plenty Of Blame” with General Stuart (Bill Frueh). He told me that he and a group including John Hunt Morgan (Bill Nordan) did a 60 mile ride in Ohio (I believe), and that they and the horses were completely exhausted at the end. He could not imagine physically riding the actual distances covered by Stuart, and surmised that they had to be riding from sun up to sundown in order to cover hundreds of miles. He tipped his hat to the real troopers and horses. I think we all do after reading your book.

  3. Mon 13th Nov 2006 at 11:20 pm

    Randy,

    I did, in fact, make that decision. For me, it was a function of taking on a challenge and taking this Civil War writing addiction of mine to the next level. In many ways, I find writing books more rewarding because the pay-off at the end (no, not monetary, although that helps) is bigger and better, and there’s nothing like seeing your name on the spine of a book.

    I do find that my projects tend to be mutually exclusive; with my incredibly short attention span, I can’t afford to be distracted like that. I try to work a project to completion and then move on. Right now, I’m waiting for feedback from a handful of readers on my Dahlgren manuscript, so I’m using that down time to write this article.

    Eric

  4. Mon 13th Nov 2006 at 11:22 pm

    Michael,

    I hear you. Writing articles allows me to tackle projects of interest that are not long enough to warrant a book-length treatment. They enable me to deal with a single subject in depth.

    That’s an interesting insight about Stuart’s march. We tried to address the wear and tear on the horses in our work, and I hope we succeeded.

    Eric

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