A full weekend

Late last night I returned home from the trip south.  It was a full and enjoyable weekend.  On Friday evening, I met Eric Wittenberg and our friend Dwayne Siskey at the Mine saloon in Gettysburg.  Dwayne recently relocated to Gettysburg from Grove City PA.  Dwayne has been a reenactor and living historian for a long time (in fact he is the one who got me interested in that aspect over 10 years ago).  When a job within his company opened up in Gettysburg, he was able to fulfill his dream and move there.

It was great seeing Mine barkeep Bobbie again.  She’s had health problems recently, but is doing fine and always has a big smile for me and my friends when we walk in the door.  I sat down at the bar where Eric and Dwayne were keeping company and tipping beers with old friends William Frassanito and Blake Magner.  There’s always good conversations to be had with Bill and Blake.  Blake kindly told me how much he enjoyed reading the Stuart’s ride book by Eric and myself.  “Frass” and I had a long conversation about a book of Gettysburg photos which came out recently (the publisher sent me a review copy and I’ll be reviewing it here shortly).  We all jabbered for several hours and finally decided to head out to Dwayne’s apartment about 11:00 pm, since the three of us would be on the road to Westminster MD by 8:30 am.

Dwayne’s apartment is very nice.  On the small side, but adequate for one person.  We all zonked pretty quickly, and were up by 7:00 am.  Since I have a large new pickup with an extended cab, I drove the three of us to breakfast at the Avenue Restaurant, then down Rt 97 (Baltimore Pike) for Westminster.

The event in Westminster was the commemoration of the anniversary of Capt. Charles Corbit and the 1st Delaware Cavalry’s charge against Jeb Stuart’s cavalry column in the streets of Westminster (June 29, 1863).  Eric and I have a full chapter on the action in our book, the most modern and detailed treatment of the action ever compiled.  The organizers of this event – the Carroll County Historical Society and the Pipe Creek Civil War Roundtable – asked Eric and I to attend and sign copies of our book.

When we entered town, we were rather surprised to find that there was very little advertising (signage) for the event.  In fact, anyone going into Westminster would have no idea about the activities, nor where they were.  We stopped and asked for information, and were sent to the wrong location by a local.  Finally we asked a sheriff’s deputy, who pointed out the event for us.

The encampment was just a block from the old Courthouse.  We were able to find the coordinators, who had a location for us in the large activities tent.  In the encampment were living history by reenactors, including an impressive mounted contingent of the 4th Virginia Cavalry (the regiment that led Stuart’s advance into town and clashed with Corbit’s Delawareans).  A couple other authors were set up in the tent with their books, and the County Historical Society also had a tent with many publications available.

As we set up, we couldn’t help but be astonished that the visible advertising for the event was so non-existent.  It was the event’s 5th year, so I thought maybe it’s become a fixture and will be well-attended anyway.  However, there was little noticable advertising in Gettysburg to speak of, so Eric and I were skeptical about the number of folks that might come.

As the day progressed, it was evident that our skepticism was warranted.  We were there from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm, and I truly doubt that more than a few hundred people came through during the day.  There should have been several thousand.  The 4th Virginia Cavalry was very impressive, and marched to the new monument to the Charge near the old Court House in procession with others for the wreath-laying ceremony.  Then there was a procession to the old cemetery of the Ascension Episcopal Church were Lt. William Murray of the 4th Va (killed during the action) still lies at rest.

More people should be given the opportunity to attend and witness these impressive events.  It is certainly within the powers of the Historical Society, the Pipe Creek CWRT, and the city of Westminster to advertise this event more in regards to signage around town – and special attention should be paid to the Gettysburg area.

We were also disappointed to see that the Historical Society was selling our book too – right next to us.  Now, we fully understand that these groups survive on donations and sales of such items – but when authors are invited to attend an event such as this, certain allowances need to be made.  For those who are unaware, authors traveling to events for book signings only make money by selling their books (minus, of course, any fee paid by the sponsor).  We have to purchase the books from our publisher at the wholesale rate, just like bookstores, and only retain the resulting profit.  They don’t give them to us for free.  We ended up being, therefore, in the uncomfortable position of competing for sales with the very folks who sponsored our attendance in the first place.  We had at least one instance where a customer bought the book from the Society, then brought it over to us to sign.  Eric and I were glad to do so, of course, but that very thing defeats the purpose of our being there in the first place.

Throughout the entire day, we only signed and sold a total of 6 books.  Between Eric and I, the resulting “profit” didn’t even cover the cost of our gas to attend.  Luckily we bunked with a local friend… if we had to pay for hotel rooms, the day would have cost us a lot of money.  Throw in the costs of meals, etc., and our attendance could have cost us a lot more money.

I don’t wish to sound like the success of such an event for an author must come down to the financial bottom line.  We know that we were also witnesses to the fine events taking place that day, and we were duly impressed and enjoyed them very much.  Our book is going into its third edition only months after its release, and we couldn’t be happier with its sales.  But more folks should know about the event through better signage advertising, which would have assumedly led to more books sales for us.  Eric and I then would have been able to make a nice donation back to the sponsors.  As it was, however, all profits (and more) went right into our gas tanks.

Westminster historian Thomas LeGore had terrific events in the monument wreath-laying and the tribute paid at Murray’s grave.  As I said earlier, it was impressive to see the nine fellows portraying the 4th Virginia Cavalry on horseback along the way.  Dismounted, they fired a 21-gun salute over the grave, then taps was played.  I looked around at the 60 or so people watching, and thought how great it would be to see 10 times that amount of spectators.  I believe that had the event been advertised better (especially in the Gettysburg environs) they would have had that.

Eric and I had a great conversation with LeGore about his activities in preserving the history of the area, and specifically his work on Corbit’s Charge.  Much of our book chapter on the event benefitted from his work.  Tom impressed us with the level of detail he knows about the events, and his dedication is inspiring.  It was Tom who spearheaded the placement of the new monument near the Court House, the new gravestone over Murray’s resting place, and many other tangible remembrances around town.  Tom is to be congratulated and appreciated for his untiring work.

Once we packed up and left the event, I decided to take Eric and Dwayne to nearby Taneytown, and show them the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac on June 30/July 1, 1863.  I drove them to the location of the Shunk Farm just outside town, where army commander George Meade’s HQ was located, with us noting that Cavalry Corps commander Alfred Pleasonton’s HQ was next door.  When there, I always imagine those couriers running up and down the nearby roads to Gettysburg over those hours as events in Gettysburg got underway.  I also drove them over to the property where Winfield S. Hancock and his II Corps were camped.  We checked out the War Department markers in a little park in town, and then I drove the boys back to Gettysburg via Harney Road, which is the road that Meade used to travel to the battlefield after Hancock.  Just a few miles before reaching Gettysburg, I stopped at the little church cemetery in Mt. Joy where Pvt. George W. Sandoe is buried.  Sandoe, a new recruit of Capt. Robert Bell’s Adams County Cavalry Company (later a company in the 21st PA Cavalry) was killed in Gettysburg on June 26, 1863, after being shot by one of Lt. Col. Elijah White’s 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry.  White led Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon’s brigade’s advance into the town that day on their journey north toward Harrisburg.  As much of the Army of the Potomac marched to their date with destiny at Gettysburg along Harney Road on July 1, they literally passed by the fresh grave of the first casualty on that battlefield.

We then headed to the Baltimore Pike, where our old friend Dean Shultz was hosting a pig roast in his back yard for members of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.  Dean had invited us to come over after our time in Westminster.  Dean is a local powerhouse of Gettysburg knowledge, owns a beautiful period home used as a hospital during the battle, and is also the owner on the land on which the “Lost Avenue” and its monuments are located.  I was able to meet several members of the CWI, including Pete Vermilyea, a great historian and author.  Pete is a terrific fellow and it was very nice to talk with him.  A couple of the folks even bought some copies of our book.

We had a bit to eat, and enjoyed Dean and Judy’s homemade ice cream – delicious!  As we were leaving, Gabor Borit of the college was just coming in.  Gabor has had some health issues lately, but appears to be recovering well.  We were able to greet him before leaving.  It was great to see the trademark big smile on his face before we left.

The three of us had plans to have dinner that evening at a local hotspot, Dave and Jane’s Crab House near Emmitsburg MD.  When we got there, we were disappointed to see the parking lot overflowing and a line of people waiting to get in.  It was Saturday night and the place was bursting at the seams.  So, we headed down Rt. 15 and Eric suggested we eat at Cozy’s Restaurant in Thurmont, a favorite hangout of the high-falootin’ from Camp David.  It’s a buffet, which is right up my alley (as Eric will be quick to tell you).  I’m 6’1″ and only 180 pounds, but I put away enough food that I should be twice as heavy.

Must be that dang tapeworm.

The food was great, and when we headed back north we would have just enough daylight to check out some obscure monuments at Gettysburg.  First we drove to the seldom-seen monument of the 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry east of town (which Dwayne had never seen before).  Then, I took the guys to the little monument of the 4th New Jersey Infantry’s wagoneers Granite Schoolhouse Road, probably one of the most obscure monuments on the field.  I usually call it the “New Jersey Teamsters” monument, and Eric officially dubbed it the “Jimmy Hoffa Monument” – very fitting indeed.  A great play on words, and like Jimmy, no one really knows where it is :)

It was getting dark, so we headed over to the Mine for libations, where Bobbie was holding court behind the bar.  We stayed a couple hours having some great conversations, then called it a night around 11:00 pm again.  The next day, Sunday, we had planned a trip to Antietam to meet up with Ranger Mannie Gentile, fellow blogger Dimitri Rotov, then do a little exploring at Harper’s Ferry.

I’ll post about that next.

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Published in: Uncategorized on June 25, 2007 at 1:18 pm  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. JD,

    After reading your blog, I really wish that I had made the drive over to Westminster. I really enjoyed your book on Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg, and I was hoping to get a chance to meet you and Eric, for the first time, as well as get my book signed. I debated whether or not to make the drive, but I’d been battling a bad cold over the last three weeks, was not really sure how much trouble I would have finding my way to Westminster and the book signing, and I was somehow nervous that I would finally show up, only to discover that the two of you had already left for the day. In the end, I stayed home and tried to sleep off this cold.

    Next time, I’ll listen to first thoughts and just make the drive. :-)

  2. David,

    I wish we could have met… I hope your cold is getting better and that you recover soon.

    I will be doing the following books signings (as of this time, there may be more) in Gettysburg over anniversary weekend:

    Friday, July 6: 2-4pm Bookstore in the Visitor Center GNMP on Taneytown Rd
    Saturday, July 7 7-9pm at the Farnsworth House Bookstore on Baltimore Rd

    If you can make it there over the weekend, please look me up!

    J.D.

  3. [...] Here are the four bloggers, from left to right: Ranger Mannie Gentile, me, J. D., and Dimitri Rotov. Dimitri has written up his account of the tour, and so has J. D.. [...]

  4. Nice foto, very nice…

  5. Loved your thoughts on the Westminster event. I was one of the mounted Confederates and participated in the 21 gun salute at graveside. I humbly submit a correction. We were the 35th Va. Co. A and not the 4th Va.

  6. Thank you, Dan!

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