26 January 2006 by Published in: General musings 4 comments

Speaking is something I do a lot of. It’s not unusual for me to give 20-30 talks per year, all around the country. Sometimes, I love it. Sometimes, I despise it.

Here’s the thing. Some of the talks that I do, I just can’t stand any more. Like the Sheridan bashing talk that I do. Mind you, I’ve never particularly enjoyed that talk from the beginning. I don’t like Sheridan, and the thought of giving the same talk over and over again just doesn’t excite me a bit, particularly with a subject I dislike as much as I dislike Sheridan. I was invited to speak to a Civil War Round Table in Tennessee in March, and the program chair asked me to do my Sheridan bash talk. I literally cringed when I read that. I genuinely don’t have any interest in ever giving that talk again, and the thought of forcing myself to do it one more time makes me greatly unhappy.

Then there are ones that I really enjoy. I really enjoy my Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg talk. Being the contrarian that I am, I love arguing in Stuart’s favor–which is actually pretty easy to do if you really study the subject. I haven’t yet gotten tired of that one. Another one I really enjoy is my Trevilian Station talk, which I haven’t given in a couple of years now. I made one up last year in about half an hour comparing and contrasting Stuart and Hampton that is a lot of fun to give. I gave one today at lunch for the first time on Ully Dahlgren and the so-called “Dahlgren Papers” found on his body when he was killed. That was fun. I pretty much made up the talk as I went, although I had a mental game plan for it when I went into the room.

I actually do that a LOT. Being an experienced trial lawyer, you learn how to speak and think on your feet, and I really enjoy that. I never work from notes at all if I can help it, and I try not to ever read a script. Most times, I am able to speak off the cuff–audiences seem to love that–but it means that I never give the same talk the same way twice in a row. That helps keep it fresh for me, and I can never remember exactly what I’ve said anyway. I am able to remember where my laugh lines are and to pause for them, but for the most part, every talk is made up as I go. Sometimes, though, I do have to read stuff. In order for the Stuart’s ride talk to be effective, it’s pretty much mandatory to read the orders to the crowd, since those orders provide the operational backdrop for the analysis. So, those things I will read. But that’s pretty much it. The rest of the Stuart’s ride talk is then done off the cuff.

There are times when I get really burned out on speaking. I hadn’t done one in a few months before today, so it was okay. I had fun making a circumstantial evidence case to a room full of lawyers, including a judge. I got to show off just a little bit. I particularly love doing the Conference on Leadership in the Civil War held in Middleburg, VA every October. I’ve done that one three times. Middleburg is one of the most affluent communities on earth, and they put the speakers up in these absolutely spectacular private homes. We never even saw the main house the first year–the guest house was as big as our house now. The folks there are great too, and so is the cause. I will always say yes to Middleburg when they ask. The same goes for old pal Ted Alexander’s events in Chambersburg, just because I like working with Ted.

May, on the other hand, will be difficult. I have three CWRT’s in North Carolina in a span of like eight days. That will be exhausting. But, these talks take me to places I’ve never been–the last one is in Duck on the Outer Banks. We’ve never been to the Outer Banks, so we’re going to stay for a few days to recuperate. Last fall, I had to give the Stuart vs. Hampton talk in Raleigh, NC after being up pretty much all night flying from Las Vegas. To say I was exhausted probably is an understatement, and I definitely was not as mentally sharp as I might otherwise want to be. But a commitment is a commitment, and I had agreed to do this. So, I sucked it up and did it. I know it wasn’t the best talk I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t the worst, either. Or there was the time a few years ago when I had Milwaukee and Chicago on back to back nights, while Susan was home in bed really sick with pneumonia. That was not fun. I felt like I had no business being there, but again, a commitment is a commitment, and it would not have been right to leave them high and dry. So, I went.

Speaking gives me an opportunity to meet new people, and to renew contacts with others. Every listener is a potential book buyer, and I am always painfully aware of that. The trips give me an excuse to visit new places. Some are great (North Carolina, New York City) and some aren’t (Kankakee). But, that’s the chance I take every time that I agree to speak to a group. And I know that going in.

All in all, I’m glad that I do this. All things considered, it continues to be a positive experience.

Scridb filter


  1. Paul Taylor
    Thu 26th Jan 2006 at 10:31 pm


    I’ve given a number of talks over the years with the engagements always being within a short drive. Never more than an hour each way. Recently, I’ve been invited to speak to several out-of-state CWRT’s which would obviously require an overnight stay, not to mention a lot of gasoline.

    What are you thoughts on expenses? It seems fairly standard that dinner is provided to the speaker, but beyond that, it’s pretty much open on whatever one can negotiate.

    Is this your experience? What are your expectations re reimbursements and are there ever situations where you charge a speaking fee?

    Paul Taylor

  2. Fri 27th Jan 2006 at 2:00 pm


    Please drop me a line via private e-mail, and I will gladly answer you. I don’t think it appropriate to do so here.


  3. Doug Alley
    Sun 26th Feb 2006 at 10:01 pm

    Just finished reading “A War Like No Other” by Victor David Hanson, about the Peloponnesian War. In an endnote he says, in part, “Sheridan…grasped the rare interplay of tactics, strategy, morale, and economic power in choosing where and how to fight.”
    Although my reading has been limited to books about battles in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, if I were to name the quinessential Cavalry general, it would be Stuart. Am I not sufficiently informed?

  4. Sun 26th Feb 2006 at 10:24 pm


    Thank you for writing. I respectfully disagree about Sheridan. A careful review of his record indicates that with the notable exception of the Appomattox Campaign, Sheridan’s battle record wasn’t great. As Cavalry Corps commander, he had the sort of atrocious won-lost record that gets football coaches fired unceremoniously. As department commander in the Shenandoah Valley, his performance was lackluster at best.

    I would tend to agree with you about Stuart.


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