June, 2008

15 Jun 2008, by


Dickinson College LogoI’m home again after a terrific but hectic and exhausting weekend at my 25th reunion at my alma mater, Dickinson College. I will spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say that it was truly wonderful catching up with old friends, fraternity brothers, and classmates whom I have not seen in 25 years. There were 20 in my pledge class. Two transferred and one flunked out, meaning 17 of us graduated. Seven of us made it back this weekend, and we had a great time getting caught up on the years that have flown by.

And Susan’s really a good sport for coming along to suffer through stories that mean nothing to her, and meeting all of these people that I’ve known for years, but which have no real significance to her. She’s a great sport, and I love her for it. I only dragged her along because if she hadn’t come, I would not have had a single weekend with her in the month of June. Kudos to Susan for going above and beyond the call of duty.

Book Signing--Thanks to Dickinson College for the pictureI also had a very successful book signing at the college bookstore Saturday morning. Many of the purchases were by my classmates, and they pretty much bought up every copy of both One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 and Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg that they had purchased for the event. I even had a couple of Carlisle residents with no connection to the college come by to pick up signed copies of the books, which was very cool indeed.

I had a blast, but I’m worn out. I then had to mow the lawn when I got home, which didn’t help things much. I have three days in the office tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and then it’s off to Virginia to lead battlefield tours.

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Tomorrow, I head to my 25th reunion at my alma mater, Dickinson College. It’s another 6.5 hours of driving to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, but I think it will be worth it. It hardly seems possible that I could have graduated from there 25 years ago and that I could possibly be 47 years old, but alas, both are true. I haven’t seen most of my classmates in 25 years, and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing some of my old friends and drinking companions after all these years. The college invited me to come back to conduct a signing on Saturday morning, and they made it an offer I couldn’t refuse by picking up the tab for the entire trip, including hotel. That made it a real no-brainer.

I will be back Sunday night. I seriously doubt that I will have an opportunity to post anything here before then, so have a great weekend and I will see you when I return.

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Time for some housekeeping, which I haven’t done in quite a while.

Steven Mynes has a new blog on battlefield stomping. Thanks to Brett Schulte for bringing it to my attention. I’ve added a link. Welcone to the blogospher, Steven.

I’ve also finally gotten around to adding John Hoptak’s 48th Pennsylvania at Antietam blog to the list, which I’ve been terribly remiss in doing.

I’ve restored John Maass’ excellent blog to the blogroll now that John is back blogging again. A belated welcome back, John. You were missed.

Since it’s now been 10 weeks since the last post, I’ve deleted the link to Chris Army’s blog. If he resumes posting, I will be happy to add a new link.

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11 Jun 2008, by

June 11, 1864

I would also be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge today as the 144th anniversary of the Battle of Trevilian Station, the largest all-cavalry battle of the war (remember that 3,000 Union infantry participated at Brandy Station). Trevilian Station had a great deal of strategic significance to the outcome of the war; it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that had Sheridan defeated Hampton at Trevilian Station, the war likely would have ended as many as six months earlier than it did, and there would have been no 1864 Valley Campaign.

Sheridan’s orders were to march along the north bank of the North Anna River, cross somewhere near Carpenter’s Ford, and then march along the route of the Virginia Central Railroad to Gordonsville. Upon arriving at Gordonsville, he was to destroy the critical junction of the Orange & Alexandria and Virginia Central Railroads and then continue west on the Virginia Central to Charlottesville, where he was to destroy the railroad junction there. Sheridan was then to meet up with the army of David Hunter and escort Hunter’s command to Petersburg, where Grant would then move on the city from three directions: The Army of the James from the north and east, the Army of the Potomac from the center, and Hunter’s army with the cavalry from the west. Robert E. Lee would either have to come out and fight on ground of Grant’s choosing, or withstand a siege, which as Lee recognized, made the surrender of his army a foregone conclusion.

Fortunately for the Confederacy, Wade Hampton conducted a magnificent battle and stymied Sheridan at Trevilian Station. Sheridan did not achieve a single one of his strategic objectives other than to draw off the Confederate cavalry to prevent it from observing the Army of the Potomac’s crossing of the James River on June 13, 1864.

I’ve been deeply involved in the preservation and interpretation of the battlefield at Trevilian Station for nearly a decade now. The folks from the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation have done a magnificent job of saving the battlefield and preserving it for future generations. I was asked to write the text of the interpretive markers placed on the battlefield by the Virginia Civil War Trails folks, and of all of the historical work that I have done, I am, unquestionably, most proud of those ten markers. When my time comes and I’m long dead and buried, those markers will still be there, educating people about what happened there. They are, without doubt, the contribution to Civil War history of which I am most proud.

Here’s to the soldiers of the North and South who fought, suffered, and died at an obscure stop on the Virginia Central Railroad in Louisa County, Virginia on June 11 and 12, 1864.

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9 Jun 2008, by

June 9, 1863

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the 145th anniversary of the largest cavalry battle ever fought on the North American continent. Today is the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station, and it was my honor to spend yesterday on the battlefield with Bud Hall. In the process, I got to see things that hardly anyone else ever gets to see. As we were in Bud’s SUV, we did some serious four-wheeling across farm fields to see some of the sites.

As just one example, we went down to the site of the Green farm, which served as Alfred Pleasonton’s headquarters during the winter encampment of 1863-1864. The house is gone, but Bud retrieved two bricks for me and for J.D. from it. Bud also showed me the spot where Wesley Merritt had his fencing match with Rooney Lee on the eastern slope of the northern end of Yew Ridge. It’s not a spot I’d seen before, and it’s one that required (a) Bud’s unlimited access to the ground and (b) a good four-wheel drive vehicle to locate.

I also got to see the two new parcels of land on Fleetwood Hill that have just been acquired by the Brandy Station Foundation. They’re mostly pristine, and they give the BSF the transitional area between Buford’s fight and the great melee for the southern end of Fleetwood Hill. We also visited the northern end of Fleetwood Hill, where Buford’s troopers briefly gained the summit before being driven off by the Confederate horsemen. It’s quite a spot, and it’s on private property, so I would never have been able to see it without being with Bud.

Then, as I noted last night, I spent the night at Kelly’s Ford, the site of so many crossings of the Rappahannock River during the war. Kelly’s Ford played a major role in the Battle of Brandy Station, and it was very cool waking up on a portion of the battlefield on the anniversary of the battle. I did a quick lap around Buford’s sector of the battlefield before heading out this morning. As I stopped at the site of St. James Church my mind’s eye had no problem seeing five companies of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry come thundering across that open field, galloping to glory among the guns of the Confederate horse artillery.

The preservation of that battlefield happened because of the efforts of many people. However, nobody contributed more, and nobody has done more to make it happen, than Bud Hall. Bud is far too modest to accept credit for his efforts, but he deserves all the credit that can be bestowed upon him. It’s my honor and privilege to call him friend and to walk those fields with him.

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I’m sitting in the A.P Hill Room (yes, I thought of you immediately when I heard which room I’d been assigned, Jenny Goellnitz) in the very lovely Inn at Kelly’s Ford, meaning that I am again spending the night on a battlefield this evening. It was 97 here today, with high humidity, which is just ghastly. It’s hard to believe that it’s only June 8 with such weather.

Here’s a quick recap of the weekend. I left Columbus at 2:00 on Thursday afternoon, arriving at Dr. Dave Moore’s house on Herr’s Ridge about 8. We proceeded to sign 175 books and another 80 or so book plates for our special edition. I then went to Stan O’Donnell’s mansion on East Cavalry Field for some greatly needed shut-eye. I had to be up WAY too early the next day.

On Friday, it was up at 5:30 to make breakfast at my favorite breakfast place in Gettysburg, The Avenue Restaurant. Phil Trostle and Rick Allen joined Stan and me, and after breakfast, we spent most of the day following the tour associated with Stuart’s Ride. When we got back to Gettysburg, it was time for our first signing, at the muster of the Gettysburg Discussion Group. After BRISK sales there, we headed off to a signing at Gallery 30. From there, we had a “Book and a Beer” signing at the Reliance Mine Saloon, a favorite hangout.

Saturday was just as busy. We got to sleep in a bit later, and then had a signing from 10-12 at the new Visitor Center at Gettysburg. This was my first time inside the new VC. I have very mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it’s gorgeous–all state of the art, and it fits into the surrounding terrain perfectly. It looks like a barn, and you can’t see it from most places on the battlefield. On the other hand, while the museum exhibits are spectacularly done, only a small fragment of the total collection of artifacts is on display, and the layout of the museum leaves a LOT to be desired. The gift shop is huge, but over half of it is taken up with the hawking of crap. The selection of book titles is only about 1/3 of that in the old VC, so it means that it’s no longer a MUST stop for any book buyer. There was, however, lots of traffic, and we signed quite a few books. After that, it was a signing at the old Wax Museum, at the Farnsworth House bookstore, dinner, and, for the first time on the visit, a quick visit to the south end of the battlefield. We concluded with another “Book and a Beer” signing at the Mine. Lots of old friends came by as well as some new ones (thanks to Sarah Adler’s parents for letting her come and meet us). We had lots of laughs and lots of fun.

Today, I met the gang for breakfast and then did another lap around the battlefield and headed south. I met up with Bud Hall and Mike Block, a trustee of the Brandy Station Foundationat the Graffiti House to plan out my tour for the tour I’m leading in two weeks. I got to see a number of things I’ve never seen before, and am now really excited about leading the tour. It’s going to be a great time, and it was great to meet Mike and see old friend Bud again. Tonight, it’s here at the Inn. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to make a very quick side trip to the visitor center at Manassas National Battlefield Park to pick up a pin for my hat, and then it’s time for the long drive home to Ohio.

It’s been a fun, profitable, and exhausting trip, but I’m ready to go home. I’m home for three days, and then I hit the road again…..

More tomorrow night from home. Tonight, it’s sleep time…..

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Tomorrow, I’m off to Gettysburg. We have lots of booksignings there this weekend for the retreat book. Here’s the schedule, in case any of you are in the area:

Friday, June 6 – The three of us will have a special booksigning for members of the Gettysburg Discussion Group at their muster, in the meeting room of the Holiday Inn from 5:00pm to 6:15pm. Special GDG bookplates will be included with each book.

Friday, June 6 – The three of us will have a talk and signing at Gettysburg’s Gallery 30 from 6:30pm to 8:00pm. 30 York Street in Gettysburg, Pa. This event is the National Release of our new book One Continuous Fight: The Retreat From Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863. Each book will feature special book plates for the event.

Friday, June 6 – Special “Book and a Beer” signing with the three of us at the Reliance Mine Saloon on Steinwehr Avenue in Gettysburg, beginning at 9:00pm. We’ll have copies of both Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg and One Continuous Fight. Each book purchased will feature a special Reliance Mine bookplate.

Saturday, June 7 – The three of us will have a signing in the bookstore of the new Gettysburg Visitor Center from 10:00am to 12:00pm. Taneytown Road, just south of the National Cemetery.

Saturday, June 7 – The three of us will have a signing at the Gettysburg Gift Center on Steinwehr Avenue in Gettysburg from 1:00pm to 3:00pm. Copies of both books available.

Saturday, June 7 – We’ll have an evening signing at the Farnsworth House Bookstore on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg from 5:00pm to 7:00pm. Both books available.

Saturday, June 7 – We will again have a special signing at the Reliance Mine Saloon on Steinwehr Avenue in Gettysburg beginning at 9:00pm, with both books available and special bookplates.

Then, on Sunday morning, I will be heading down to meet Clark “Bud” Hall at Brandy Station to complete the planning for my tour in two weeks. It’s going to be nifty being there on the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station. I will be spending Sunday night in Culpeper, and will be headed home on Monday, probably getting home pretty late Monday evening.

All of this means that I may not get much of a chance to blog until I get back. If not, I apologize for the absence and hope y’all can survive without me for a few days. 🙂

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I think that I have mentioned that J. D. and I are going to do a three-volume study of cavalry operations during the Gettysburg Campaign. We’re hoping that it’s going to end up being the definitive study of these operations, as Steve Stanley, who does the great maps for America’s Civil War and Hallowed Ground magazines, has agreed to do the maps for this project for us.

Tonight, I put together some prior materials that I’ve written on the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station just to see what I’ve got. A prior book of mine, The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863 included two chapters and a total of about 21,000 words on Brandy Station. In the five years since that book was published, I’ve acquired a great deal more primary source material.

Some of it is published material in the form of some new books that come out, such as the excellent new volume of the memoirs of several of Stuart’s horse artillerists that was just published by Bob Trout. Some of it manuscript material that has surfaced, either because I’ve found it from my own research, or because others have forwarded things to me because they think I’d be interested in them. Others are excellent contemporary newspaper accounts.

The point is that while the chapter in the new study will be based on what’s in my earlier book, I’ve got enough good new material that these chapters will end up looking quite different. And I guess that’s really what it’s all about: making good use of all of that excellent new material that always seems to surface. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to do so.

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Our friends Dave and Carol Moore live in a lovely home on Herr’s Ridge in Gettysburg. Dave’s father was a professor at Gettysburg College for many years, and Dave grew up in Gettysburg. When Dave finished his residency (he’s a family practice physician), he and his wife Carol decided to settle in Dave’s home town.

We often use Dave and Carol’s home as a our base of operations when we’re in Gettysburg, and they’re always extremely generous with us. J.D. and Mike Nugent will be staying there this weekend when we’re all in Gettysburg, and we will use it as our base of operations once more. Consequently, J.D. had Ted Savas ship books to Dave’s house, and Dave generously agreed to house them for us. Each of us bought 100 copies, plus we get our authors’ copies. Then, Ted had lots of orders from book vendors and the like, so 800 copies of One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 were delivered to Dave’s house. That’s 67 boxes of books, folks, which filled an entire UPS truck. Carol had to help the UPS guy unload the truck, because the driver couldn’t handle it all himself. Needless to say, they pretty much take up a whole bay of the garage.

Dave called me this evening to inform me that his 16-year-old daughter Becky just got her driver’s license, and that we created some serious problems for Becky. Dave gave Becky permission to drive home from the test, and then suggested that she practice pulling the car in and out of the driveway. Dave’s driveway’s got an odd angle to it, and it’s difficult to maneuver under the best of circumstances, and because of the books in the garage, the brand-new driver had some serious problems with maneuvering the car in the driveway and was completely unable to pull the car into the garage itself because there were too many boxes of books there to permit access. Too funny.

Thanks, Dave and Carol. We appreciate it. And Becky, sorry about the problems with maneuvering. The good news is that they will be gone by this time next week. 🙂

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I have just finished John Ferling’s excellent Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence. Ferling is a retired professor of history, and this book is the product of a lifetime’s work on his part. And it shows.

This is, without doubt, one of the finest books on the American Revolution ever written. It’s a military history of the Revolution meant to be the companion volume to his A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic , which is a political history of the Revolutionary War. It covers the war completely, with enough detail to give the reader a good overview of what happened and ideas of where to look for more if that’s of interest. He focused on the strengths and weaknesses of the commanders on both sides and demonstrates rather amply that the American victory in the war was, indeed, nearly a miracle.

One of the things that I really appreciated about the book was how Ferling managed to place the war in North America squarely in the context of the global geopolitical situation. Only by seeing the entire picture can one truly understand how the chain of events that brought about the unlikely American victory over the finest standing army in the world came to pass. Few books do that, and I found Ferling’s efforts to do so to be among the most useful aspects of the analysis.

The central thesis of Ferling’s book is that George Washington designed and brilliantly implemented a Fabian strategy to win the war. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a Fabian strategy, here’s a quick primer on it. Fabian strategy is an approach to military operations where one side avoids large, pitched battles in favor of smaller, harassing actions in order to break the enemy’s will to keep fighting and wear that enemy down through attrition. Generally, this type of strategy is adopted by smaller, weaker powers when combating a larger foe. In order for it to be successful, time must be on the side of user, which must be able to avoid large-scale actions. Also, Fabian strategy requires a strong degree of will from both politicians and soldiers, as frequent retreats and a lack of major victories can prove demoralizing.

Fabian strategy is named for the Roman emperor Quintus Fabius Maximus. Given the task of defeating the great Carthaginian general Hannibal in 217 BC, following crushing defeats at the Battles of Trebbia and Lake Trasimene, Fabius’ troops shadowed and harassed the Carthaginian army while avoiding a major confrontation. Knowing that Hannibal was cut off from his supply lines, Fabius instituted a scorched earth policy intended to starve Hannibal’s army into retreating. Taking advantage of shorter interior lines of communication, Fabius prevent Hannibal from resupplying his army while also inflicting several minor defeats on his army.

Ferling very convincingly argues that Washington came up with the idea of implementing and executing a Fabian strategy, and that, with only a couple of exceptions (most notably, the September 11, 1777 Battle of Brandywine, where he was soundly thrashed), Washington adhered to the strategy throughout the eight long years of the Revolutionary War. He also argues, again quite effectively, that Washington’s most able and most dependable subordinate, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, did an even better job of implementing the Fabian strategy to counter the British Southern Strategy. Although Cowpens was the only battle that Greene won, his tactics inflicted such heavy losses on Cornwallis’ army that he was forced to abandon the Carolinas, make for Virginia, and adopt Yorktown as his base of operations. That, in turn, made the surrender of Cornwallis’ army and the negotiated peace a foregone conclusion.

The book is brilliant, and I recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the Revolutionary War.

It also got me wondering what would have happened had the Confederacy implemented a Fabian strategy from the beginning of the Civil War. There certainly would not have been three invasions of Maryland. Robert E. Lee was probably far too aggressive to execute such a passive means of waging war, so it is unlikely that it could have happened. However, it certainly makes for interesting speculation. What do you think?

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