Reponses to older posts

Today I received a couple responses to some older posts, and thought I would provide answers here.  Both of them touch on a few topics that can stand by themselves.  The responses were from Charles Joyce and Don Hallstrom.

In response to the topic “Oh, to have been there…” Charles writes:

Greetings:  I have enjoyed your writings on the Gettysburg Discussion Group and elsewhere, and I’m glad to learn that you’re writing an article on the June 26, 1863 action.  I happen to have a CDV album that was owned by a Captain of the 127th Pennsylvania, which was William Jennings’ regiment before he commanded the 26th Pa. Militia.  The album has a very nice CDV of Jennings, which you could use in your article if you wish.  Let me know if you’re interested and I can send you a scan. 
Kindest regards,
Charles Joyce

Charles, thank you very much for writing and for the offer of the Jennings picture.  I would very much like to use it.  I enjoy using illustrations provided by individuals rather than those in public repositories.  I will make sure that full citation and credit are listed for you as well.

The article that Charles is referencing is a piece for Gettysburg Magazine that I’m writing about the June 26 skirmish between Gordon’s and White’s Confederate forces west of Gettysburg, against Jenning’s militia and Robert Bell’s Adams County Cavalry.  Being able to use a picture from an individual’s collection would be a nice treat.  Charles, if you could email a scan (at least 300 dpi and nice and clear) to me at it would be greatly appreciated!  Thank you!

In response to the post “Books, books, and more books” Don writes:

Hello J.D.  I’m new to your blog and I’m enjoying it very much… Recently noticed that E(dward) Longacre has ground out another biography, Joseph Wheeler.  This one is soon to be released.  I wanted to get your opinion and perhaps other blogger’s opinions concerning his vast number of books.  What do you think of his books?  I think most of his subjects needed biographies, just not sure he was the right person to do them?

I was made aware of the Wheeler biography many months ago through Eric Wittenberg, who provided some source material for Ed’s book.  On his blog, Eric also responded to this same comment from Don.

I understand the “red flag” that seems to go up concerning prolific writers, and Ed seems to get this quite often because of the 2 or 3 books he seems to write every year.  I’ve seen Ed quite often, and he stated once that he tries to write 15 pages of material every day (and I can tell you, folks, that’s quite a bit).  With Ed’s work ethic, and the amount of material he has available, it doesn’t surprise me though.

My take on his writing is this:  As Eric mentioned in his response, I too will state that you won’t find much tactical detail in Ed’s work – however (and he will admit this) that’s not his primary focus in most of his works.  Ed provides well detailed overviews of actions and campaigns in his books, and I think his talent for placing events in context is nearly unmatched.  Ed is also a very talented writer.  His wordsmithing makes his writing extremely easy to read and follow.  And if it weren’t for Ed, guys like Wheeler, Fitz Lee, Buford, et al, might not (yet) have book-length biographies devoted to them. 

His books have also provided wonderful sources and references for myself and others.  His bibliographies have given me leads on many sources that I otherwise was unaware of.  For instance, books of his such as Lee’s Cavalrymen, Lincoln’s Cavalrymen, The Cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign, and even his Buford biography are like standard references in my library.

I do look forward to the Wheeler bio, and will purchase it once it’s released.  Through Eric, I know that there will be some great post-war material included that will be interesting to see in print for the first time.

So in summation, I think Ed’s work has been indispensible to the Civil War community, both for scholars and casual readers.  You’ll need to look elsewhere for that battle and campaign tactical detail you may crave, but I think that’s fine – no one author can be all things to all people.

As I mentioned earlier, Ed told me recently that he’s only penning one more Civil War book, then he’s moving on to other areas, such as WWII and Air Force topics.  In my opinion, Ed’s future works will be as valuable to those other areas as they have been for the Civil War.  One future book he described to me, dealing with the final weeks of WWII, is one I anticipate reading.

Thank you for the comments and questions, Charles and Don, and please keep reading here and letting me know your thoughts.

Published in: on November 29, 2006 at 12:12 pm  Comments (3)  

Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville appreciation

As a cavalry nut, the June 1863 cavalry fights at Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville (“AMU”) in Virginia have always been of great interest to me.  The first time I had an in-depth tour and discussion of them was a number of years back with my friend Robert F. O’Neill.  Eric Wittenberg, Mike Nugent and I were on one of our cavalry-related tours (which we affectionately call “CavFest”) and we enlisted Bob to give us a personalized tour of these sites.  Bob has written the only book-length treatment of the fights.  Appropriately subtitled “Small But Important Actions,” the book is a volume in the HE Howard VA Civil War Battles and Leaders series.  Bob’s book is one of the well-written standouts of this otherwise often mediocre series.  Along with the tour of AMU, Bob took us to many sites in Mosby country and we had a memorable, educational time.

Fought between the massive cavalry battle at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, and the Gettysburg battle the following month, the scraps at AMU are hardly known and little thought of by most students and scholars, and hardly mentioned in any works of the campaign.  I’m beginning to appreciate, however, just how important these fights were to the veterans.  They certainly didn’t forget the hard times they experienced at AMU, and they took every opportunity to reminisce about them.

I’ve long had quite a collection of accounts by veterans in newspapers such as the National Tribune and others, and the regimental histories of participating units treat AMU in good detail.  Bob’s book brought many of these sources together into a cohesive account that places the fights in their proper context within the campaign.  Recently, though, I set my researcher on a course to begin finding everything he could on AMU for the 3-volume Gettysburg Campaign project Eric and I are penning.

My recent couple of packages from my researcher astounded me as I went through them.  There are hundreds of sheets which are copies of reminiscences by veterans of the 1st Maine Cavalry, particularly of Aldie.  I guess I’m astounded because of all the scraps these troopers went through – Brandy Station in particular, and hundreds of others – these men and many of other regiments wrote so much on AMU.  These sources will add greatly to my and Eric’s narratives of these fights between Jeb Stuart’s and Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalries.  I had anticipated that our first volume about the campaign’s cavalry actions would include a pretty detailed chapter each on these three scraps, going beyond even O’Neill’s treatment, but now I can see that we will have an even larger treasure trove of primary accounts to draw upon than I had previously imagined.  I hope that we can give these “small but important riots” the attention they deserve, and I’m confident that we’ll bring an enormous amount of participants’ own quotes to bear toward that effort.

Published in: Uncategorized on November 27, 2006 at 4:45 pm  Comments (5)  

Robert Bell letters

I hope all my readers had an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.  I was quite busy until today and didn’t have much chance to post anything, so I’m back in the saddle.  We had dinner Thursday at my parents’ home here in my hometown – with my sister and her husband, who live in Columbus, Ohio.  I only get to see Lisa and Bob twice, maybe three times a year, so it is always especially nice to spend time with them.  They are also very interested in historical topics, so we had some great conversations about the Stuart’s Ride book as well as my upcoming projects.  In April 2007, I will be in Columbus to speak to the Round Table and also a local elementary school.  By then, Lisa and Bob will be in their newly-built home, and I’ll be the first to lay claim to their new guest room!

This past Saturday, I received a long-awaited treat in the mail.  The previous week, while I was in Gettysburg for a couple book signing events, I was made aware of a privately-published collection of over 100 letters by Robert Bell.  Bell raised, and was captain of, the Adams County Cavalry Company from in and around Gettysburg.   The company was officially formed just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, and was part of the force that met Confederate General Jubal Early’s advance on the town on June 26, 1863 – I’ve made a couple posts on this topic previously.  Bell turned out to have been a prolific letter writer during the war, especially after his company was made Company B of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry after the battle.  Bell was then promoted to a major in the regiment, with Lt. Col. William Boyd commanding.  During the last two years of the war, Bell was intermittently temporary commander of the regiment and the brigade.

A small local publisher in Gettysburg named John Horner (a collateral Bell relative) recently published the 117 letters that Bell wrote to his family during the war.  My copy of the collection arrived on Saturday to my delight, and I spent a couple hours that afternoon going through them.  Bell’s letters provide great primary source material for the June 26 event, as well as the death of one of the privates in the company, George Washington Sandoe.  Sandoe was shot and killed that afternoon by a trooper of Elijah White’s 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry that was traveling with Early (specifically John B. Gordon’s brigade).

As I’ve mentioned here, I’m currently working on an article for Gettysburg Magazine on the June 26 event, which will also be worked into a new book project that Eric Wittenberg and I are doing on all cavalry operations during the campaign.  Bell’s letters have never been used in a new work before, so they will open up a whole new world for this topic as well as adding greatly to the scholarship of the final two years of the war, camp life, the regiment, etc.  I’ve sent a copy of the letters to Eric, who will find good useful information about Col. Boyd as well (Eric is working on an article about Boyd’s exploits during the campaign).

As I’ve said over and over, I’m constantly surprised by the amount of primary material that continues to surface all these years later.  Bell’s letter collection has been in the caring hands of Bell descendants in Hunterstown, and they made them available to Horner for publication.  These letters provide an enormous amount of new material for the study not only of June 26 and his cavalry company, but also of the battle, the campaign, local history, the balance of the war, and many other related topics.  They offer wonderful insight into so many events like these types of letters so often do, and we’re very lucky that the family has permitted them to be published and made available to scholars and students.

I look forward to finishing this article and seeing what it will eventually add to the scholarship of the early days of the Gettysburg Campaign.  I also know that I will be able to use the contents of these letters in many future projects.

Published in: on November 27, 2006 at 11:54 am  Comments (2)  

“Aw, somebody’s gotta ride back and get a shitload of dimes!”

Hah.  Fooled you.

Thought this post was going to be about my replacing my regular, crappy old DVD version of Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedic classic western Blazing Saddles, didn’t you?  Well, it isn’t.  I just happen to love the above line, spoken in frustration by one of my all-time fave character actors, Slim Pickens, in that movie as he rides up to the “toll booth” placed by the good guys to slow down his column.  Actually, I don’t know of a Special New and Improved Anniversary Silver Gold edition of this DVD having been release recently, but I’m sure one will be.  And I won’t buy it.  They can’t fool me again – I’m too smart for them now.  I will be happy just watching my crappy old regular disc over and over, thank you very much.  Unless the new one has some really neat packaging…

No, this post is about this past weekend’s trip to Gettysburg, and some very interesting things (at least to me!) that happened.  As I previously posted, on Friday I traveled to the Hallowed Ground for the final time this year, mainly to attend two books signings I had scheduled, and also to take in the Remembrance Day festivities.

I arrived in town on Friday, and went to the GNMP library where my good friend, Park Ranger John Heiser, showed me the microfilms of the Gettysburg Compiler newspaper they have on file.  Since I’m doing an article on the June 26, 1863 action at Gettysburg, I wanted to find a 1905 newspaper article I’d heard about written by a member of Capt. Robert Bell’s Cavalry.  Bell’s Cavalry clashed with Lige White’s 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry that day, and this particular article turned out to be a wealth of information on the action as well as the death of one of Bell’s troopers, Pvt. George Sandoe.  I transcribed the article, put a little money in the Park kitty, and said my goodbyes to John until next spring.  It’s always great seeing him, and he has been a wonderful help to me over the years.

Afterwards I met up with my very good friends Steve Basic and Duane Siskey, two fellows who are like brothers to me.  We got some dinner, then spent some quality time at the Reliance Mine Saloon along with buddy Dr. Dave Moore, at whose home I stay when in town.  Dave and his wife Carol are very generous in allowing me to stay whenever I’m in town.

On Saturday, we watched the parade through town – always quite a sight.  The parade seemed very large this year with an enormous amount of reenactors.  Over the past couple years, though, I can’t watch it without thinking of Brian Pohanka, who always proudly led his 5th New York Infantry Zouaves in the march.  It just hasn’t been the same since he passed away.

My book signing was at the Gettysburg Gift Center on Steinwehr Avenue from 2pm-5pm, where I was with my old friend Ed Longacre.  Ed is a prolific writer, and has written dozens of books and articles, mostly on Civil War cavalry subjects.  That day, however, he surprised me when he told me that after his next book (about the first few weeks of the Civil War) he’s getting out of the Civil War writing biz altogether.  He is going to begin writing exclusively about WWII subjects.  He told me of his first project, which sounds quite interesting – a book about a little-known battle toward the end of the war, one in which his father’s unit participated.  I anticipate seeing what that one will be.

The signing went very well, and it was enjoyable talking to the folks who came by.  That evening after dinner our group went to the National Cemetery for the beautiful Illumination consisting of some 3600 candles placed at each grave and along the cemetery paths.  Walking among the graves one can’t help but ponder the end result of war, and the contrasting peacefulness one feels for those who quietly sleep.

On Sunday morning at 10am I was back at the Gift Center for the signing, and met up with a pair of reenactors with the 6th New York Cavalry with whom I’d spoke the night before at the Mine.  They’re a terrific group of guys who are very passionate about their portrayals.  I also was able to meet a guy with whom I’d enchanged emails regarding Col. (later BG and MG) Thomas Devin, the officer that I portray.  This fellow’s name was Devine, and he may be a collateral relative of Devin.

Just when I was scheduled to finish my signing, author Jeff Shaara appeared for his.  My one book pales in comparison to the mountain of books he’s written since his initial Gods and Generals.  The line of people waiting for him to sign stretched out the door, whereas I signed perhaps 20 books all weekend.  God bless him, though.  The majority of folks want their history in an entertaining form, which he provides.  I’ve never been able to get used to his style of writing (lots of passive voice, broken sentences, atrocious grammar, all of which give me a headache as I try to read it) but you can’t argue with the fact that his books sell.  I only own his G&G and Last Full Measure.  I’ve only read about 10 pages of the latter, as I went cross-eyed by that time trying to get through the writing style.

That afternoon (Sunday) my pards and I were able to spend a couple hours on the battlefield, then we went to see the ceremonies in the National Cemetery.  The keynote speaker was former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw.  Brokaw’s speech, which was a mixture of observations about the Civil War, the current state of unrest, and human nature, was very well done.  I enjoyed it very much, as did the rest of the crowd.  Brokaw’s comments were very non-partisan.  I especially liked his observation about the new Democratic Congress – stating that it would be a mistake for the Democrats to think they now have a blank-slate mandate to shake up government, and they will face the same high price in 2 years if they don’t learn the lesson the Republicans were just taught.  I couldn’t agree more.

Watching Jim Getty, as Abe Lincoln, deliver the Gettysburg Address capped off the ceremonies.  I love watching him do that year after year, and it seems even more special each year.  I don’t think Brokaw had ever seen Getty do that – after Getty was done saying the speech from memory, in that great Kentucky Lincoln voice, Brokaw was smiling from ear to ear.

Afterwards I met up with my good friend Dean Schultz, truly the “Dean” of all things Gettysburg.  Dean has forgotten more about the battle, troop movements, and locations of anything and everything than the rest of us will ever know.  Dean showed me copies of over 100 letters written by Capt. Robert Bell, which have only just come to light.  I have copies coming soon – which will prove to be an incredible source for the article I mentioned earlier, as well as the three-volume work on all cavalry operations during the Gettysburg Campaign that Eric Wittenberg and I are working on.  More on this topic later.

And, this weekend, I had only just learned of the destruction of Bell’s home just north of Gettysburg.  Built in the late 1700’s (with the barn still there, too), the home and barn was torn down this summer to make way for the new Adams County Prison.  I didn’t know of its existence until now, so I never got a chance to look the place over or take pictures.  In return for tearing down the property, the Prison had to promise to name the new road there “Major Bell Lane.”  Some consolation.

So, in addition to being a pleasurable last weekend in Gettysburg for this season, it also turned out to be a good working weekend as well.  I made several new friends and contacts, and now I’ll wait for spring when I can return again.  If the Boss (read that – wife) lets me this winter, maybe for the first time in my life I’ll get to see the battlefield blanketed with snow…

Hey, perhaps I’d have a better shot if I promise not to buy the new edition of the Blazing Saddles DVD when it comes out!

Published in: on November 20, 2006 at 3:38 pm  Comments (9)  

“Are you gonna keep barking, little doggie, or are you gonna bite?”

My DVD-purchasing saga continues.

A couple days ago, I picked up the 15th Anniversary release of the Quentin Tarantino masterpiece The Reservoir Dogs.  I hadn’t seen this movie since its release, and really looked forward to watching it again.  It’s a movie for which I’ve looked a long time, but didn’t run across on the rack until now.

The package, to a movie nerd like me, is way cool.  The 2-disc (2 discs!) set comes in a thin metal case resembling a gas can, just like the one used by Michael Madsen in one of the warehouse scenes.  Seeing this immediately evoked the “ooohs and aaahs” similar to seeing the Planet of the Apes TV show collection I posted about previously.  Inside the cool can, the double discs are secured inside a large flip-style matchbook, right from the restaurant in one of the opening scenes.  Oooh.  Aaah.

Reservoir Dogs is one of the greatest character study movies of all time, a true Tarantino masterpiece.  The use of “flashback” in this movie goes beyond the typical use, and is central to the way the story itself unfolds, as well as the character studies.

The movie also has very famous vignettes among afficianados of the film – such as Steve Buscemi’s rant on tipping waitresses, the “commode” story, and just about everything Madsen says.  The cinematics are awesome, despite the low budget – the Cadillac, in fact, belonged to Madsen; Tarantino didn’t even have enough money to buy a car.

No fancy digital effects, no big-money scenery – just an incredible character study with an ensemble of some of the greatest underappreciated characters of film – among them Buscemi, Madsen, Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney, and Tarantino himself.  Also to be appreciated is the voice of comic Steven Wright (remember him?) as the radio DJ sprinkled throughout.  If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen this movie, or if you’ve never seen it at all, you may wish to check it out.  Just be forwarned that the violence and blood is heavy (the latter mostly on the floor, so to speak).  And if you’re going to buy it, by all means get the Special 15th Anniversary Edition, complete with gas can and matchbook packaging.  Oooh.  Aaah.

Tomorrow morning I’m off for Gettysburg yet again, this time for a book signing Saturday and Sunday at the Gettysburg Gift Center on Steinwehr Avenue.   Saturday from 2pm-5pm, Sunday 10am-2pm.  I’ll be hanging out with friends all weekend, and one can find us late into the night Friday and Saturday at one of our favorite hangouts, the Reliance Mine Saloon.  If we’re lucky, Bill Frassanito will be at our table once again, regaling us with more stories about his current World War II studies.

I’ll post a recap after I return.

Published in: on November 16, 2006 at 2:54 pm  Comments (3)  

Who, me?

A bit of a paraphrase from Alfred E. Newmann, but I think it’s apropos.  Kevin Levin blogged yesterday about about a plagiarism scandal that has hit the Civil War/history community.  There, and also on Eric Wittenberg’s blog and the comments on both sites, you can read the details of the story and find pertinent links.  I don’t want to address the details and mechanics of this particular situation here, but rather the concept behind it all.  It’s something that I’ve previously meant to post about in a general way anyway.  When something like this happens, it leaves me shaking my head, of course – but not simply because of the accusations of plagiarism, but because of the obvious fundamental problems in the researching/writing processes of a particular “historian.”

Despite Prof. Fred Ruhlman’s protests to the contrary, it seems evident to this blogger that he did no less than have William Marvel’s previous book beside him as he wrote, simply re-wording sentences here and there.  For Ruhlman to think that his feeble protests to the contrary will convince anyone is the height of idiocy and is also quite insulting.

We’ve heard his same excuses in other such cases – that someone else’s previous work made “such an impression” on him, that as he wrote his own, similar wording came out of his brain.  Uh huh.  Pardon me while I pause to watch a delightful covey of pigs flying across the sky.

Doris Kearns Goodwin made the same excuses when called on the carpet regarding her FDR book.  In her case, the impression made upon me was the same – you have to take me for a complete idiot to think I’d believe it.

So here’s that fundamental problem I mentioned – it is absolutely beyond me that this happens at all.  In my case, before even thinking about writing on a particular subject, I have a personal desire to know it inside and out.  I gather all available sources – both primary and secondary – and sift through them over and over.  I make comparisons and contrasts, and attempt to construct the story that I feel is accurate, placing the subject in context with surrounding events.  By the time I’ve grown comfortable with the idea of beginning to write – the process can take weeks or even months – I feel that the story is now “mine.”  If I couldn’t already stand up in front of a crowd and lecture for several hours about the subject without notes, I don’t feel I’m ready to write yet.

That, I feel, is the familiarity one must have to commit pen to paper.  Taking such time and effort allows me to appreciate the nuances and tiny details of a subject, something I couldn’t attain if I didn’t invest that time and effort. 

Case in point – my previous published magazine articles have all been on topics that I’ve researched for years, and in most cases crawled over the pertinent terrain like an ant.  My and Eric’s book on Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg was the product of years of research, visits, tours, discussions, debates, arguments, previous writing, and everything between.  Articles and books that I’m currently working on are subjects that I feel the utmost familiarity with.

So when I see cases such as Ruhlman’s, I can tell that there is a fundamental flaw in his mechanics.  And the very idea of writing about a topic becomes especially dangerous when there is already a good, modern scholarly work on the same or similar subject (such as Marvel’s).  To the less-disciplined writer, it’s too easy to rely so heavily on it.  Then they get caught, and start spewing all sorts of lame excuses.

When you explore this story through articles and links on other sites, you’ll see the comments about Ruhlman’s doctorate apparently coming from a diploma mill (the University of London) and that he’s a temporary staffer at the University of Tennesee at Chattanooga.  All that aside, Ruhlman’s actions shouldn’t reflect on the recent debate over academic historians vs. non-academics.  Ruhlman’s impropriety, if true, were his actions and his actions alone, and he alone should suffer the consequences if found culpable. 

And in my opinion, the consequences should be severe.  Termination (better yet, resignation), and censure that ensures any future work by Ruhlman be looked at closely.  It should be tough for this fellow to ever write again.

I’m very tough on plagiarism.  I have been the victim of it several times, and those who know me well know about them.  Most of the cases involve people using things from my website.  In one case, one “writer” had a biography from my website published under his name, and 90% of the article was a word-for-word cut and paste from my site.  After I brought it to the publisher’s attention, the writer had to issue a public apology to me on the front page of the magazine.  The writer’s excuse to me over the phone, however, was that he “didn’t know” it was wrong to simply use my copyrighted work as his own.  You wonder how some people are able to dress and feed themselves.

In another case, there exists a published book on officers at the battle of Gettysburg which contains several biographies lifted from my website, in many cases word-for-word.  Although references are provided in the book, there’s isn’t a single credit to me or my website.  In many cases, the sources provided by the author do not provide the material in his biographies.  They can’t – much of the material is from unique original sources in my collection, or information from descendants, etc.  The author simply cited general sources to make it look like the information came from somewhere, and to try to cover for the fact that the writing was stolen from me.  So, I obviously have a sore spot when it comes to plagiarism and the theft of intellectual property.

Let’s hope that incidents like these are held to a minimum.  Until that small minority of writers put the require effort into their research, we’ll unfortunately see this type of behavior again.

And I’m sure we’ll hear the same old boilerplate excuse, with the accused compounding their crime by assuming that the rest of us are gullible enough to believe it.

Published in: on November 15, 2006 at 11:37 am  Comments (8)  

The Last War-time Cavalryman

I haven’t posted the last few days since I was in upstate New York with my family, celebrating my wife’s parents’ 50th Anniversary.  We had a very nice party on Saturday and it was a terrific time.

When I came home yesterday, I opened our local Sunday paper and saw several interesting articles dealing with the last surviving veterans of World War I.  Some of you might know that there are currently only 12 veterans of that war still alive today (as of the beginning of this year, there were 24, but we’ve lost half of those already).  At an average age of 108 (108!), we’re sure to lose the rest of them very soon.

One particular article caught my eye – and the caption below the picture of an obviously very old man stated that this fellow was the “last surviving member of the U.S. Army Cavalry.”  106 year-old Samuel Goldberg of Rhode Island is apparently the last surviving mounted horse soldier to serve in a war.  Here’s the biographical paragraph of Goldberg, from the Scripps Howard News Service:

Samuel Goldberg, 106, lives in Greenville, R.I.  Immigrated at age 5 from Poland with his family.  Last surviving member of the U.S. Army Cavalry.  Joined the army for adventure and served at Fort Hatchita, N.M., and at forts along the U.S.-Mexican border in 1918 to defend against a possible invasion via Mexico by Germany.

Here’s a bit more from the general article, which talks about the status of surviving veterans of WWI:

These remarkable “Doughboys” are members of an increasingly fragile fraternity, relics of a world changing conflagration little remembered today.  Once they stood 4.7 million strong: American farm boys, factory hands and tradesmen itchy for adventure, all called by their county to fight “the war to end all wars.”
Now, when the 88th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I arrives Saturday, there won’t be enough surviving U.S. veterans of that defining conflict to fill a platoon.
When 2006 began, an unofficial roster of known remaining American WWI vets listed only about 24 names.  Eleven months later, those ranks have dwindled to 12, Scripps Howard News Service has confirmed.
With an average age of 108, it is unlikely these numbers will hold for long.

Unlikely indeed.  I’m 41, and when I was a kid there were lots of WWI vets in my hometown – it seemed as if every fellow over 65 was a vet.  Now, we’re losing veterans of WWII at an alarming pace as well.  My father, a vet of both WWII and Korea, will be 80 this January.

Here’s to all of them, and in a special way for Samuel Goldberg, the last cavalryman to ride leather during a war.  His passing will be the end of an era for this afficianado of all things cavalry.

Published in: on November 13, 2006 at 3:15 pm  Comments (11)  

Oh, to have been there…

Over the past couple nights, I’ve been working on an article for Gettysburg Magazine that actually covers an action that Eric Wittenberg and I will be including in a future book.  The article deals with what happened at Gettysburg on Friday, June 26, 1863 – just a few days prior to the battle.  On that day, Confederate Jubal Early advanced his division to Gettysburg from the west, where he clashed with militia forces near Marsh Creek.  I recently gave a tour of this action to the Civil War Discussion Group, which I posted about a couple weeks ago.  That afternoon, John B. Gordon’s Confederate brigade, led by Elijah White’s 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, hammered a local cavalry company and militia infantry, capturing most of them.  A while later, one of White’s troopers shot and killed Pvt. George Washington Sandoe along the Baltimore Pike, making him the first casualty at Gettysburg.

Last night, I found an account of Sandoe’s death that I had forgotten I had.  James McAllister, a 77 year-old miller who’s property was along the Pike where Sandoe was killed, saw it happen.  According to the account, he immediately rushed up to the Confederates and “gave them hell” for shooting Sandoe in the back while he was trying to get away without shooting.  Another account, however, states that Sandoe did indeed take a shot at the southerners.  But I found the account of McAllister’s actions quite interesting – I can just imagine this old man waving his arms and cursing hell out of White’s troopers.  After the southerners left, McAllister loaded Sandoe’s body onto his cart, and rode about 6 miles south to deliver his body to his widow – to whom Sandoe had been married only four months.

Amazing what you find when you look, especially the stuff you forget you have.  To write this article, I have a pile of books about 4 feet high, and paper documents and such that’s probably a foot high.  Plus, I constantly go into my library to pull more stuff here and there.  I didn’t even include McAllister’s actions in my recent tour, because it completely slipped my mind that I had it, and I had apparently forgotten about the episode.

I’ll be writing an article which gives details about June 26 at Gettysburg that have never been done before – and just when you think you know everything there is to know about it, you find something “new” and which really perks you up.

That’s one of the awesome things about collecting your research and then digging in to write about a topic – you continually learn new things.  It caused me to completely rewrite three paragraphs of the article, but it was worth the fuss!

Published in: on November 8, 2006 at 9:19 pm  Comments (4)  

Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star Review

Michael Aubrecht, Jeb Stuart biographer and historian, had a wonderful review of Plenty of Blame to Go Around in the November 4 issue of the newspaper.  Click here to read the online version (it’s three pages total).  Co-author Eric Wittenberg and I are very appreciative of Michael’s detailed review and endorsement of the book.  About a month ago, a great review of the book appeared in the Washington Times, courtesy of historian and author Tom Ryan.  More reviews are forthcoming in several popular Civil War magazines, and in Civil War News, all of which we’re really anticipating.

Yesterday, on Saturday, as I previously blogged, I signed copies of the book at the Butternut&Blue table at the Gettysburg Autumn Show.  I had a terrific time.  B&B owner Jim McClean is a great guy, and we had an enjoyable day together.  We sold lots of the books, and I purchased several good books from him and other sellers.  If you’ve never been to one of these shows, or the many held in other areas, I encourage you to go.  I really enjoy looking at all the artifacts, weapons, letters, flags, acoutrements, and especially books!  These are the places you can often find that elusive item for your shelf or collection.  Several of the books I purchased will be very useful for my future work.  And I successfully snuck the bag of books into the house earlier today so my wife never noticed!

I think so, anyway.  Time will tell.

We’ve also recently updated the website on the book, located here.  We posted some snippets of recent reviews, as well as some future events for signings and talks.  Over the next few months, we also have some jointly written articles based on the book that will appear in magazines such as Civil War Times and Gettysburg Magazine.  Those of you who are subscribers or can find them at your local newsstand, please watch for them.  Each article will contain even a bit more detail, and some recent sources we acquired, that are not included in the book.

Published in: on November 6, 2006 at 1:00 am  Comments (4)  

Books, books, and more books

Tomorrow (Friday) evening, I’m off to Gettysburg for the third time in a month.  On Saturday, from 9am to 5pm, I’ll be signing copies of the Stuart’s Ride book at the Butternut and Blue table at the Autumn Book Show.  The event will be held at the All-Sports Complex near the Eisenhower Farm.  It’ll be the first time I get to meet Jim McClean, owner of B&B.  He has sold many of our books, and I anticipate an enjoyable day.

This will be the first time I make this show – because of its proximity to the Remembrance Day event each year in November that I usually go to, I’ve never been able to attend before.  I’ll be meeting up with some good friends including author and historian Dave Powell that evening for dinner.  If any readers will be in town on Saturday, please stop by the show and say hello.

Hhmm.  Gettysburg.  Surrounded by thousands of books.  Try as I might, I just can’t come up with a downside to the scenario…

Published in: on November 2, 2006 at 9:48 pm  Comments (5)