15 February 2008 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 7 comments

Benjamin F. Cooling, who has written two very good books on Early’s Raid on Washington, left the following comment on my blog this morning:

Am curious – why do you think the project is worth doing – your seventeen page bibliography suggests that it has been done over and over and over. Even I am postholing Fort Stevens and a new biography of Wallace looms with Gary Gallagher presumably still working his Early biography. Fred Ray has done the sharpshooters, the Ohio 100 dayers story has been done. The arcane and obscure belong to the NPS on site for their interpretation and Ed Bearss gave them a good basis awhile ago – his flock publishing the government study. So, what gives with your curiosity?

While I think the tone of the question left a bit to be desired, it’s a valid question. Let me begin by saying that I completely understand being territorial about a topic, and Dr. Cooling has done a great deal of work on these topics. Consequently, I can appreciate his being territorial about it. Having said that, though, just because one has done work on a topic doesn’t make it one’s exclusive territory.

J. D. responded thusly:

Mr. Cooling,

Honored to hear from you! Well, to be quite honest, it’s often been said that Jeb Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg, and the retreat from Gettysburg, had been told and done to death.

Regardless, when we began gathering sources for each of those stories, they began to shape the events much more fully than before. In the event of Jeb’s ride, we began developing a perspective on his decision-making that hadn’t yet been explored. And previously there had been precious little ever put together on the fights at Fairfax Court House or the shelling of Carlisle. We discovered a good amount of material on the battle of Hanover that completely changed the interpretation of it. And a mountain of primary source never used in telling the fight at Hunterstown came to us. No book had ever fully told the story of the resulting controversy of Stuart’s ride and performance until our 3 chapters on the subject.

Our book on the Gettysburg Retreat developed the same way – Brown’s masterful study didn’t fully tell the story of the 22 fights and skirmishes from July 4 – 14, and no book yet fully explored Meade’s decision-making.

In the case of Jube’s Raid, we have combed all present and past works, including your own, and we determined to put our twist on it – telling the narrative in the context of all else that was taking place. There is yet much to be said about the Johnson-Gilmor Raid, and the fight at Ft. Stevens still hasn’t received a modern study. Judging by the amount of material we’ve gathered, we see the door open to tell this story just as we explored Jeb’s ride and the Gettysburg retreat. We are building on the wonderful work you and others have done, to lay the groundwork for such a study as ours.

I think I speak for Eric as well when I say we’d be honored if you would be involved as we work through the project, and give us your thoughts and critique as we get closer to putting it together.

Best regards,
J.D. Petruzzi

J.D.’s points are valid. Who says that more books about Pickett’s Charge are needed? But yet, they keep coming. The reason why is because the author obviously believes that he or she has something worthy of adding. Given the fact that there are very few campaigns or battles that have not been written about, using Dr. Cooling’s logic, no new Civil War books would ever be published. Clearly, that’s not the case.

We’re pursuing this project because we think we have something worthy to add. With all due respect to Dr. Cooling’s work, we’ve already turned up a number of sources that he never used–and which have never been used in any other published treatment of the battle–and those new sources add to and help to evolve the interpretation. Many of them deal with the stand by the 100 days men, and I disagree with Dr. Cooling’s assessment that what there is to be done with their fight has been written.

We’re likewise pursuing this project because we believe that we bring a certain amount of credibility to our tactical studies, and we believe that we can, and will, produce a book that will not only be different from Dr. Cooling’s but which will add to the body of knowledge by incorporating sources that he did not use. By just one example, we have located a set of papers formerly belonging to Lt. George Davis, of the 10th Vermont Infantry, who was awarded a Medal of Honor for his valor at Monocacy, that have never been used in any other published treatment of the battle by any other author. We will be using this material, which includes post-war correspondence with many officers engaged in the battle including brigade and division commanders.

Similarly, I have never seen any evidence that Davis’ Medal of Honor file from the National Archives has ever been used, or that the file of the other winner of the Medal (also from the 10th Vermont) has been used in any treatment of the battle. We’ve already made arrangements to obtain copies of those files, and will make use of them in our work.

Those are just a couple of examples. So, the answer is that while J. D. and I both have a great deal of respect for the work that Dr. Cooling has done in the past, he does not “own” this battle, and it does not mean that there isn’t room for a new and different treatment of these events.

And, to answer the question posed at the end of Dr. Cooling’s comment, I have maintained a fascination with these events since my first visit to the Monocacy battlefield in 1992 (and which prompted me to purchase Dr. Cooling’s first book on the raid since there was no interpretation on the battlefield other than the monuments placed by the veterans), and this project is a natural extension of that long-standing fascination.

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Comments

  1. Russell Bonds
    Fri 15th Feb 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Interesting perspective that a lengthy bibliography is taken as evidence not of thorough research but of a topic that needs no further analysis. Guess I’ll quit on this Atlanta book . . . my bibliography is too long! :) RSB

  2. Fri 15th Feb 2008 at 3:28 pm

    I hear that every climbing season, scores of folks attempt to scale Mt. Everest. Should they be told to stop in light of Sir Edmund Hillary’s 1953 assent?

    I salute the fact that you are even attempting to write a scholarly work on a particular topic I also have an interest in. I respect the effort that the endeavor will take. And I look forward to reading it. And frankly I’m a bit jealous that I lack the resources needed to focus on a project such as this myself!

  3. Fri 15th Feb 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Thanks, guys. Yes, the comment from the respected Mr. Cooling threw us a bit. I may be a bit dense (just ask my wife) but I’m not sure of the connection between a long bibliography and nothing left to be said about a subject.
    I echo Eric’s comments that the story of the 100 days men has hardly been told. The discovery of Davis’ letters cache will, I believe, be a boon to the story of Monocacy. They’re new, they’re fresh, and they’ve not been used. The Johnson-Gilmor Raid hasn’t had any in-depth scholarly treatment at all, and same for Ft. Stevens.
    As I said in my other response, had we listened to the sentiment that something has been “done to death” or that there was nothing left to tell, we wouldn’t have written either of our last two books. And I’ll never believe that anyone’s work, including ours, will ever be the “last word” on any subject.
    Follow that advice, and no book on Gettysburg or Lincoln would have appeared in the last 50 years :)
    J.D.

  4. Fri 15th Feb 2008 at 9:27 pm

    This summer, a Johnson-Gilmor Raid book is going to be published by McFarland. The title is: “Lee’s Bold Plan for Point Lookout: The Rescue of Confederate Prisoners That Never Happened” by Jack Shairer. The publisher description is a bit too breathless for my taste, but it might be interesting.

  5. Fri 15th Feb 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Drew,

    I’m aware of it, thanks. I’ve already ordered a copy. Given that it’s McFarland, I’m paying nine arms and seven legs for it, but I’ve ordered one.

    Eric

  6. Fri 15th Feb 2008 at 11:56 pm

    I’ve ordered it as well. It’ll will be a $20 book that costs $60 (like all of McFarland’s books :) ) but it’s a must-have for us cavalry types.

    (In other words, suckers!)

    J.D.

  7. JAMES mccorry
    Sat 16th Feb 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Eric: Im surprised by Mr. Coolings comments. Im looking forward to the book on Monocacy. New sources will always dictate new interpretations on similiar themes. As Ed Bearss says one must be able to seperate the wheat or seed from the chaffe. Im glad you and Dave are doing a Monocacy project. It seems to me that authors are often critical of others work-especially in the field of Civil War History. Jim

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