Hey, it’s just me…

Here’s something that I’ve been thinking about for over a year now, ever since my first article appeared in a major Civil War magazine – America’s Civil War magazine, to be specific.  And I’m writing about it now because I’ve been thinking about this particular topic even more so now that my first book has been published.

I’m beginning to get treated differently by people when I first meet them.  And I haven’t really seen this addressed very often by other published authors, so here goes.

In July 2005, an article I did on Buford’s early morning July 1 action at Gettysburg appeared in America’s Civil War.  Rather unhumbly I’ll admit that it’s probably the most detailed tactical narrative of Buford’s fight to open the battle that’s not only been packed into 4,000 words, but that’s probably appeared anywhere. 

I do living history in the person of one of Buford’s brigade commanders several times a year along with my good friend Mike Nugent.  I portray Col. Thomas Devin, and Mike portrays Col. William Gamble.  With the Gettysburg National Military Park’s blessing, we set up a little display on McPherson Ridge on the battlefield, complete with cavalry-related items (weapons, flags, equipment, etc) and a large display map.  Well, last July a fella who works at the National Archives, upon hearing my real name, figured me for the guy who wrote the article about Buford in the magazine he’d just read.

You’da thunk I was the new rock star.

He really enjoyed the article, and treated me like I was a celebrity.  I thought it very nice of him, and I’ll admit I was flattered to be treated like one of those “famous” Civil War scholars we all know.  It certainly massaged my ego.  But I’ll also admit that once he left after we had a very nice conversation, I began feeling a bit uncomfortable.  Those who know me well know that I’m a ham, I love to talk, and I love to tell folks about my passions – the study of Civil War cavalry, battles, personalities, etc.  Hell, I wouldn’t be doing this blog if I didn’t hope that somewhere out there at least one person gave a damn about what I have to say.  But at the same time I’ve always been a regular guy.  I don’t see myself as someone anywhere near the league of guys like you’ll see time after time on the History Channel, or those who write best-selling books.  I’m very comfortable doing my little thing, talking with folks on a battlefield, giving tours, talking to Round Tables, and jawing about Buford, Jeb Stuart, or George Custer over a beer in the local dive.

Now that the book has come out, I admit I do see a difference in how people react when meeting me for the first time, especially if they’ve already seen the book.  But, you know, I understand the feeling.  Before being published, I really looked up to those folks who had the knowledge and the whatever-it-took to get a book on the shelf.  I still do – that hasn’t changed.  So I see why other folks react that way to me.

It’s not a bad thing – that’s not what I’m saying.  Just that it’s different.  It’s a little strange to have those projections coming at me, rather than the other way around.  Some folks in that position, it seems, feed off such reactions and it seems to make them even more full of themselves.  I recall a few years ago while at a book signing, I purchased a book I was interested in and took it to the signing table for the author.  I complimented him on the book and on his past works, which I’ve enjoyed immensely.  He looked at me like I was wasting 15 seconds of his important life, signed the book hurriedly, and all but threw it back at me.  His behavior left me feeling quite sad for him.

So, many times over the past couple years, I have told folks that I’m just your average bum who happens to write about his passions, and some in the publishing biz think my stuff is worthy of putting into print.  For that I’m grateful, not full of myself.  The day I ever entertain the thought that it makes me better than anyone else is the day I’ll quit altogether.

It’s the reason why I have so many good friends who both enjoy my work and also have known me for many years – long before any of my work started getting published.  And hopefully they know I’ll never change.

When I spoke to the Gettysburg Round Table a few nights ago, I was glad to be told that the microphone at the podium didn’t work.  When I was introduced, instead of going up to the little stage and behind the podium, I instead went out into the crowd and just had a conversation with them – instead of giving a lecture.  In fact, a few minutes into it, I took a little poll about some things we discuss in the book, and had folks tell about their opinions and thoughts.  The whole thing ended up being more of a give-and-take, conversation-style event rather than the room listening to me give a speech for a half hour.  And that’s what I like.  And I really like listening to other peoples’ thoughts and opinions.  My uncle Anthony, who passed away about 15 years ago, left me with a poignant thought: you don’t learn a damn thing when your mouth is moving.  I hope I’ve learned to listen as well as I can talk.

I wonder how many other authors have had these same thoughts?

So, if we haven’t met yet, and we do someday, just remember that I’m as average as it gets.  Just ask my wife and daughter – they’ll tell you the only thing special about me is I’m the guy who loves them more than anything in this world.  My pants go on one leg at a time, I slip on the ice in our driveway at least once a winter to the hoots and guffaws of my amused neighbors, and it’s me who has to take out the garbage every week.

Oh, and if you buy me a beer, I promise I’ll tell you all about Jeb Stuart….

Published in: on October 29, 2006 at 1:08 am  Comments (12)  

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  1. JD:

    The one thing that has always amazed me about the CW comunity as a whole, is that most of the people are very humble & willing to share their knowledge over beers & a burger. (Some more beers than others. :))I’m happy to say I haven’t, as of yet, met the likes of the one you described. Or if I did, he didn’t show the side you witnessed. When I do, it’ll be a lot like the day I was told there really wasn’t a fat guy in a red suit. But I know they’re out there.

    Our hobby is not about what you know or how many times you’ve been published. To me, it’s all about the passion.

    Great blog!


  2. Thanks, Mike. That author is in fact a rather famous Gettysburg writer and I was very surprised at his behavior. Perhaps he had a bad day, who knows.

    Every day you run into someone who knows more than you about something, and it keeps you humble.


  3. I’ve enjoyed conversing with on CWDG and meeting you at the Carriage House JD. Your proof that not all good historians have published multiple volumes or have been seen numerous times on the History channel.Being Humble is your greatest quality.


  4. Thanks, MD Mark – I guess claiming oneself to be humble sounds a little weird, and the reason why I hesitated making that latest post… but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. The greatest fun I have is getting together with friends and conversing.
    That’s what it’s all about, as far as I’m concerned. If you can’t have fun with your hobbies, you’re missing out on the most fulfilling part of all this!

  5. J.D.,

    Whoever that uppity Gettysburg writer is, probably considers writing his job. This no doubt will probably show up in his work someday. You on the other hand consider it your passion. Poring over thousands of official records, letters, diaries, etc. is considered fun to you. To him it is homework. And that is what separates you two apart. Fortunately for people like me, there seems to be more of you than him in the Civil War community.

    Oh yeah, if I ever get to meet you, you bet your butt I will take you up on that beer and conversation. Heck, I will buy the second round too if you tell me all about Buford. Now that is a deal!

  6. JD,

    As Joshua’s committed himself to buying the beers, can we all come too? It would be nice to get the opportunity to mingle with a ‘humble celebrity’!

    Best wishes,


  7. JD – It’s somewhat funny that we posted on somewhat similar themes today (http://www.18thmass.com/blog/index.php?itemid=130). Mine though was the opposite, the manager at the local Books-a-Million made me feel quite low for offering to sign a copy of my book – she thought I was trying to sell her a POD book, even though it had her BAM price sticker on it. At least the cashier thought it was cool. 🙂

    Two summers ago I went to a family reunion and as part of the gift bag, we gave away copies of my book, I actually had people talk to me for a change, that was strange.

    The best I was ever treated was when three re-enactors of the 18th Massachusetts went out of their way to visit Charleston and have dinner with me. When I thought about it, I could not believe that one person, much less three would do something as crazy as that. But it was a nice dinner and I ended up with three new friends and some new information about the 18th.

  8. Hi JD. I had a similar experience just yesterday in fact… Because I am one of the contributing Civil War writers for the Fredericksburg newspaper, people around here “see” my ugly mug more than they would if I was strictly writing books. Yesterday, my daughter and I took advantage of a beautiful day and went over to The Wilderness Battlefield to hike Gordon’s Flank Attack Trail and photograph the leaves. She is my battlefield-buddy and her older brother and her usually alternate between my book signings and trips. After arriving at the Visitor’s Shelter Exhibit, an older couple walked over and asked if I was that “writer from the Free Lance-Star.” The Ranger also approached me and we had a nice conversation.

    Of course my ego was humming. However, my daughter was nice enough to bring me back down to reality… after we had a hiked a distance, I said something like, “Wow your dad is so cool huh?” She replied with “Dad, you’re only a celebrity here. Nobody knows you in the REAL world.”

    Thanks dear. 🙂

  9. LOL, Mike – our families do indeed know how to keep us humble! And thank goodness for that…


  10. Tom,

    Great hearing from you!

    I can see that others do have similar experiences. As I’ve sometimes told folks, “You know, now that I’ve signed your book it’s worth less…!”

    So it can be either good or bad 😉


  11. 🙂 Am no author, and I don’t even play one on TV, but I tend to think if a reality check is needed I can supply one.:)

    Seriously, can’t imagine J.D. at a book signing not talking to folks as he signs his book. Scenario has happened to me as well in terms of an author blowing me off, and I don’t get how anyone could treat folks in that way, especially people who have bought the book they were peddling.

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve Basic

  12. Steve,

    Some do indeed let the notoriety go to their head, sadly. This is a wonderful fellowship of guys and gals who enjoy studying our Civil War, to whatever depth, and we all learn from each other. That’s as it should be, methinks.


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