Ted Savas interview

While looking over the last couple posts on Dimitri’s blog today, I saw links of an interview with my publisher, Ted Savas of Savas Beatie LLC.  I found Ted’s comments to be very refreshing and revealing.  As an author who has experienced first-hand the marketing techniques and author-publisher personal relationships he speaks of, I can tell you that Ted is being very honest in his candid remarks.  One will see quite a difference among the “smaller” publishers such as SB and the large publishing houses.

Reading Ted’s comments also made me quite proud to be one of his authors.  The interview, conducted by blogger Joe Wikert, is in four parts below:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Published in: Uncategorized on January 30, 2007 at 3:01 pm  Comments (2)  

Scratchin’ fleas

Reader Richard Williams posted a comment to my “Army of Amateurs” post from A.E. Housman.  It’s his definition of a historian, and I really like it:

A historian is not like a scientist looking through a microscope, but more like a dog searching for fleas. You can never be sure you have got them all.

How apropos.  No matter how exhaustively you think you’ve researched a topic, something new always turns up.  Researching the Civil War is no different.  There’s always another diary or letter lurking there in Grandma’s attic for the last 100 years, or a rare book that hasn’t seen the light of day for generations.  It’s indeed like scratching fleas, and thank goodness there’s always the possibility of discovering more.  If we no longer had unknown and yet-undiscovered source material out there, modern scholarship would simply be repetitive and rehashing.

After releasing my book and most of my articles, something new had a habit of turning up.  That’s frustrating, yet exciting.  Sometimes, though, you catch it just in the nick of time.  I’ve posted examples of that regarding the Stuart book here.  But late last year I completed an article on the cavalry battle at Fairfield, PA, which took place on July 3, 1863 concurrently with Pickett’s Charge at nearby Gettysburg.  The article will be published in the July issue of America’s Civil War magazine this year.  It contained the most up to date scholarship when I completed it, and I was very satisfied with it.

Then, I discovered a letter written after the battle by Maj. Samuel H. Starr, the commander of the 6th US Cavalry detachment that was all but decimated by Brig. Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones’ Confederate cavalry brigade that day at Fairfield.  No accounting of the fight has ever used anything written by Starr before.  Starr was desperately wounded that day (an arm was amputated) and his letter contains much about the local citizens who nursed him back to health.  The letter was so good, that rather than quoting a few lines from it, I composed a sidebar piece for the article that contains the entirety of the letter.  I believe it will be printed alongside the article.  In addition, I also discovered a private letter written by a 6th US trooper who witnessed the saving of the regiment’s colors, and for which a Medal of Honor was issued after the war.  There has never been a lot of detail about the event until now, since I was able to weave in great details from the letter.  Neither letter has been used in any accounting of the battle before.  Now I’m really proud of the article, and it contributes a lot more scholarship to this relatively obscure fight than I had previously hoped.

I also received an email recently from a reader and fellow author regarding how I find my sources.  I do get this question quite often, in fact.  The questioner wondered where I go, and whether I procure material myself or use a hired researcher.

As to the latter, I do both.  My researcher gets half or more of my sources for me.  He’s in Washington DC, and it’s worth it to me to pay someone hourly rather than do it all myself – which would be much more expensive in lost work time and other expenses.

As to where I get my material, that’s a much broader answer.  Besides the obvious places like the Military History Institute holdings at Carlisle, PA, and the Library of Congress and National Archives, there are all sorts of terrific libraries around the country that have vast historical collections.  State museums and archives have a wealth of material.  And because of my website, this blog, and my public activities, an enormous amount of material in private hands comes to me.  This is probably the most rewarding.  I get emails such as, “Hey, my great-great grandfather was in the Xth cavalry regiment, was at such-and-such a battle, and I have all his letters here…. would you be interested in seeing them?”  My heart jumps at such emails and letters. 

Yep, it’s sure like scratching fleas.  My trusty dog probably wouldn’t appreciate the analogy, but I hope there continues to be lots more fleas out there to go after.  It’s what keep me going as a student and historian.  Just the thought that there’s one more letter, diary, or book out there I haven’t seen yet, just one more from some guy who wrote about his experience never knowing what it would mean to the future, keeps me going onward.  Even with all the material we have now, there may be just as much lurking out there somewhere waiting to be used and appreciated.

Thank (scratch) goodness.

Published in: on January 29, 2007 at 3:06 pm  Comments (3)  

Gettysburg Magazine article

As my co-author Eric Wittenberg also posted last week, we have an article in the current issue of the Gettysburg Magazine adapted from our book on Jeb Stuart’s ride to Pennsylvania.  This particular article details the clash at Westminster MD between Stuart and about 95 troopers of the 1st Delaware Cavalry, and Stuart’s subsequent camp at Union Mills.  Readers will see some differences between the article and book chapter however; we have more detail in the article from sources that came to us since the book’s release.  Likewise, the article’s focus is a little different – rather than from the southerner’s perspective like the book, the article is more of an objective battle and tactical analysis.  Each complements the other well, I think.  Folks will like the additional details about the 1st Delaware’s commander Maj. Napoleon B. Knight (he turned out to be much younger than Eric and I originally thought prior to acquiring details on his life) as well as the new map that accompanies the article.

New editor Andy Turner is to be commended for this, his first issue of the magazine since Bob Younger’s passing.  If this issue is any indication, the magazine is in good hands and I really look forward to future issues.  For a while there over the past couple years, the magazine’s trademark scholarship began to sink.  There were some really poorly-researched and interpretated pieces in it… one recent article on Gen. Francis Barlow’s fight on the first day on the knoll that now bears his name was extremely poor.  But I believe Andy will be more conscientious about letting such garbage get through than the previous management, and the magazine will be known once again for the best Gettysburg scholarship available.  If you don’t currently read the magazine or have a subscription (there are two issues per year) please consider doing so.

Ed Bearss, who leads off each issue with his interesting introduction and assessment of the issue’s contents, had great things to say about our article.  Eric and I truly appreciate Ed’s kind words and appreciation for our work.

Eric and I are also currently working on an adaption of our chapters on the June 30 fight at Hanover PA for North&South Magazine.  We’re excited about this one.  That will make three articles total based on the book – one in Civil War Times (Feb. 2007 issue) on Fairfax Court House and Westminster, the Gettysburg Magazine article on Westminster and Union Mills, and the Hanover one.  Eric and I are also considering doing one about the resulting controversy surrounding Stuart’s ride, based on the three chapters and conclusion devoted to the topic in our book.

All of this is evidence of the great deal of interest in our book, and we could not be more appreciative nor humbled by all the attention it has received.  I’ve been learning that a book is often like having a child, and watching it grow.  This one’s turning out to be a good kid, and I’m very grateful.

Published in: Uncategorized on January 29, 2007 at 12:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

An army of amateurs

I want to address a topic which has been, shall we say, “brewing” for quite some time now in various Civil War historian circles.  I’m sure a similar situation exists in virtually any segment of historiography.  It’s the distinction between what is deemed to be a professional historian vs. an amateur historian.

Apparently, such a distinction (or label) seems important to some.  From my experience, since I began getting published several years ago, it appears that a “professional” historian is one with a doctorate – whether that madates a degree in the historical genre, I’m not sure.  An “amateur” is anyone, like myself, who does not have a PhD.  Perhaps the “professional” label extends to anyone who is in the academic field regardless of degree in the mind of some, but as far as I can determine the attainment of a doctorate is the dividing line.

Let me start off by saying bluntly and honestly that I don’t care about the label either way.  My discussion of it here is only because I’ve seen situations flare over it in online discussions and personal interactions.  I only wish that the “professional” and “amateur” distinctions weren’t so important to some, but apparently it is. 

The “amateur” connotation here reminds me of such a distinction in the world of sports, although it has an entirely different meaning.  Even though I’ve had quite a number of articles published in popular Civil War and historical magazines, with my first book appearing late last year (and I get paid for all of them) I am termed an “amateur” by the academic community.  I could have 100 published and acclaimed books, but without a doctorate I will always be regarded as an “amateur” in the field.  In sports – take the example of golf, for instance – the amateur is one who has not yet received purse money for performance or become an official member of the professional circuit.  Until joining the PGA, for example, Tiger Woods was of amateur status.  He could easily beat the tar out of 99% of the pros even at that time, but he carried amateur status simply because he had not declared himself and joined the pro tour.

But in the historical writing and research field, payment for services seems to matter not.  Nor speaking to various groups, or even being recognized as an “expert” in a various field in print.  Without the doctorate (or a position in a related field at an institution) such a person would always be an amateur.

So I guess folks such as Ed Bearss, by this definition, is an amateur.  So was Brian Pohanka.

It seems important only to academics, those who term themselves “professionals” in the field, to make the distinction.  I guess that’s only natural, of course.  It’s not like I print up business cards touting myself an an “amateur historian.”  I don’t truly think of myself with any label other than student-historian – which I’ve called myself numerous times – because I’m always studying and pursuing knowledge.

In that world of academic Civil War history, there is more of a study of the political and social aspects of the period.  And I don’t think anyone would dispute that.  One of my favorite people, Gerry Prokopowicz, has an article in the current (Vol. 9, No. 7) issue of North&South magazine in which he lists the “Most Significant Books of 2006.”  Gerry is a PhD and the host of Civil War Talk Radio.  I was one of his guests this past December.

Gerry’s list of “most significant” books for the year are, as I expected, of a political/social bent.  None of the books on his lists concern battles or campaigns, and three of the five books are heavily concerned with the issue of slavery.  If academics and, well, “amateur historians” or just your plain reader were interviewed, would the list of “most significant” books be markedly different?  You can bet your cartridge pouch they would be.

In the end, I think the distinction between “professionals” and “amateurs” in the field is important to only a very small segment.  Most folks don’t think about such a distinction, probably never heard of it, and don’t care one way or the other.  When it comes to books and articles, folks will read what interests them and ignore what doesn’t, regardless of who the author is or his/her credentials.  The reader’s level of familiarity with the subject, and reviews, will allow them to assess the writing’s value and scholarship.

Since I plan no pursuit of a doctorate in history, I will always be an “amateur” to some, whatever that means.  My education is limited to my career field in finance – I hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University, plus two post-graduate degrees.  But I only wish my Civil War writing and expertise to be judged by the results, not what initials are (or aren’t) after my name.  If to do otherwise is important to some, then so be it – and it doesn’t bother me either way.  I know of academics who use my texts and writings in their own work, study, and teaching – and that’s good enough for me.  That’s an endorsement that’s much more important and fulfilling than any label that anyone chooses to place on me.

Published in: on January 24, 2007 at 1:06 pm  Comments (10)  

“Maryland and the Civil War” conference

Saturday, March 24, 2007 marks the 10th annual Maryland and the Civil War: A Regional Perspective conference.  The conference will be held at the main campus of the Carroll Community College at 1601 Washington Road in the historical town of Westminster, Maryland.

Eric Wittenberg and I are honored to be the keynote speakers at this event, talking about our book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg.  On June 29, 1863, Stuart and three of his cavalry brigades entered Westminster on their excursion northward to link up with elements of the Army of Northern Virginia.  A couple of obstinate companies of the 1st Delaware Cavalry, led by the equally obstinate Capt. Charles Corbit, met the van of Stuart’s column and charged the southerners in a brave but foolhardy action.  The resulting skirmish in the streets of the town, however, stalled Stuart’s progress enough that the southern cavaliers spent the rest of the day and night between Westminster and Union Mills.  Stuart therefore ran into Judson Kilpatrick’s Federal Cavalry the next day at Hanover, Pennsylvania, and was again delayed for the entire day.

Eric and I will begin our address on Westminster’s role in Stuart’s march at 9:30 am, with questions to follow.  If anyone can be in the area on March 24 and can attend the conference, we’d enjoy seeing you.  Information can be found through the Historical Society of Carroll County.

Published in: on January 18, 2007 at 11:17 am  Comments (3)  

National Archives Digitization Project

In a comment to one of my previous posts about the massive digitization of books on the internet, I mused about the possible availability of just about anything historical on the ‘net one day.  The following was recently sent to me by a friend, regarding the ongoing digitization project of the National Archives holdings:

WASHINGTON and LINDON, Utah, Jan. 10 /PRNewswire/ — Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein and Footnote, Inc. CEO Russell Wilding today announced an agreement to digitize selected records from the vast holdings of the National Archives. The 4.5 million pages that have been digitized so far are now available at the National Archives website (http:www.nara.gov).

This non-exclusive agreement, beginning with the sizeable collection of materials currently on microfilm, will enable researchers and the general public to access millions of newly-digitized images of the National Archives historic records on a subscription basis from the Footnote website. By February 6, the digitized materials will also be available at no charge in National Archives research rooms in Washington D.C. and regional facilities across the country. After an interval of five years, all images digitized through this agreement will be available at no charge through the National Archives website.

“This is an exciting step forward for the National Archives,” said Professor Weinstein. “It will immediately allow much greater access to approximately 4.5 million pages of important documents that are currently available only in their original format or on microfilm. The digitization of documents will also enhance our efforts to preserve our original records.”

“The partnership with the National Archives will expand significantly the content we are able to offer professional and amateur researchers,” said Footnote CEO Russell Wilding. “We will continue to add millions of original documents and images monthly.”

The following represents a portion of the millions of historic documents that will be made available as part of the National Archives – Footnote Agreement.

Papers of the Continental Congress (1774-89). The Papers of the Continental Congress include Journals of the Congress, reports of its committees, papers submitted by state Governments, and correspondence of its Presidents and other officers with diplomatic representatives of the United States abroad, officers in the Continental Army, State and local officials, and private persons. Among the Papers are copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Northwest Ordinance, the Constitution, and other documents instrumental in molding the new Government. Also included are drafts of treaties and commercial agreements, papers relating to expenditures and loans, reports of military progress during the Revolution, and papers relating to Indian treaties and tribes.

Mathew B. Brady Collection of Civil War Photographs. One of the largest and most frequently researched bodies of Civil War photography anywhere, this series originated with some 6,000 glass plate negatives acquired by the War Department from Brady in 1874-1875. Encompassing images by the enterprising Brady and more than a dozen other photographers, including Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan, directly or indirectly associated with him, the series ranges from Brady Gallery portraits of leading military and political personalities of the 1850’s-1860’s to views of units, battlefields, ruins, landscapes, camps, hospitals, prisons, fortifications, bridges, and railroads from Fredericksburg to Chickamauga to Atlanta.

Southern Claims Commission. In the 1870s, some southerners claimed compensation from the U.S. government for items used by the Union Army, ranging from corn and horses, to trees and church buildings. The claim files contain a wealth of genealogical information and they consist of petitions, inventories of properties lost, testimony of family members and others, reports, and certificates submitted by claimants to the Southern Claims Commission as proof of loyalty to the Federal Government and value of property damaged or lost during the Civil War. The materials are arranged by state and thereunder by the name of the claimant.

Name Index to Civil War and Later Pension Files. Pension applications for service in the U.S. Army between 1861 and 1900, grouped according to the units in which the veterans served. The name index to the Civil War and Later Pension Application Files contains over 3 million index entries documenting the applications of soldiers, sailors and their widows. The index is the entry point for one of the most significant bodies of Federal records documenting the lives of volunteers who served in the Civil War, the western Indian Wars, and the Spanish American War.

Investigative Case Files of the Bureau of Investigation, 1908-22. The Bureau of Investigation investigated real and perceived threats to the nation and its citizens before it became the FBI. The materials compiled by the BOI from 1908 to 1922 consist of an index to the investigative case files, general investigative records, investigative records relating to German Aliens from 1915 through 1920, investigative records relating to Mexican Neutrality Violations from 1909 through 1921, and investigative records transferred from the Department of Justice from 1920 through 1921. The records are arranged alphabetically by the name of the person or organization investigated.

Published in: on January 17, 2007 at 10:38 am  Comments (2)  

Unsung heroes of the Civil War

Being a “cavalry guy,” I’ve studied the effects of the Civil War era military on horses for many years.  And that doesn’t entail just the cavalry beasts – horses and mules were necessary for the artillery, infantry, supply, and nearly every other function one can think of.  A few years back, I visited Middleburg, Virginia, with fellow cavalry dudes Eric Wittenberg and Mike Nugent.  We were studying the cavalry actions in the valley of June 1863, and for the first time we saw the ponderous sculpture of a horse that’s dedicated to the “unsung hero” of the war.  It depicts a beautifully sculpted war horse, with head bowed and body all but worn out from service.  The sculpture is the epitomy of a jaded horse.  It’s evident, however, that the horse is ready to pick up its head once again to do its duty, to the death if necessary.

One of the great advantages that the Federal cavalry had over its southern counterpart during the war was the establishment of the cavalry depot at Giesboro Point (outside Washington).  Two notables who ran the place were Gen. George Stoneman and Col. William Gamble.  The depot supplied the Federal army with fresh horses, sometimes at the rate of thousands per month.  They also attempted to rehabilitate worn-out mounts.  Politics and graft riddled the place in the early days, as to be expected, along with less-than-honest horse marketers.  However, without the depot and its services, the Federal cavalry would have had a nearly impossible task of keeping the cavalry supplied and in the field.  The southerners had no such comparable facility, and the depot made an enormous difference in the last year and a half of the war.  As Confederate cavalry general Wade Hampton once lamented, “We don’t even have time to bury our dead” as Sheridan’s cavalry ran the southerners constantly.

Even though it made such a difference in the war, the cavalry depot has received very, very little notice by historians and scholars.  Seems we study the movements of the respective cavalries, but often little behind the scenes.  Talking about the subject with America’s Civil War magazine editor Dana Shoaf gave me the idea to do a detailed article about the depot, its history, problems, successes, and effects.  A 1960’s article in Civil War Times Illustrated addressed the depot in some detail, and there have been some mentions in writings here and there over the past couple decades, but nothing truly scholarly.  Quite unintentionally, I’ve amassed an enormous amount of detail about the depot over the years, mostly through my study of both Stoneman and Gamble.  I have quite a number of letters from Stoneman during his time at the facility, many of which contains interesting details about the administration of the depot and Stoneman’s constant frustration with unscrupulous suppliers, as well as the advances and changes he made there.  An old pre-war Dragoon like Stoneman, Gamble knew as much about horseflesh as anyone, and was an able and efficient adminstrator as he struggled with the enormous task of keeping Sheridan’s cavalry in the field.

Shortly I’ll begin gathering my materials and writing the article.  I think it will give interested students a good look behind the curtain at one of the many logistical mountains the Federal army faced and eventually worked out.  If and when I know it will be published, I’ll make sure to put a notice here.  And if anyone has any pertinent information that might be of use, please do contact me.

Published in: on January 16, 2007 at 5:31 pm  Comments (11)  

Back in the saddle

My apologies for not posting for the past week – my father had emergency surgery last weekend and things were pretty serious, but we were able to bring him home on Saturday, and he’s steadily improving.  Much of my time was spent with him in ICU and I have a lot of catching up to do.  I have a lot to post about here, so I will begin later today.

Published in: on January 16, 2007 at 1:04 pm  Comments (5)  

Another terrific online text source

A couple days ago, Eric Wittenberg passed on to me another great online source for books, texts, and many other media types.  It’s the “Internet Archive” at http://www.archive.org.  There appear to be even more digitized books accessible here than on Microsoft’s site that I posted about previously.  Both of these sites often take you to the same database for books.  A search will repeat a particular source several times when it’s in different databases.

Just type in what you’re looking for in the search box at the top of the screen, then select the media type.  When you find what you want, you can flip through the book, download it, print it, etc.

Last night I was thinking about the digitization of so many historical sources – books, papers, manuscripts, newspapers, all kinds of documents.  I can easily see where, some day, everything in – for instance – the Library of Congress, National Archives, university libraries, historical repositories, etc. will be available for viewing online.  You can see anything you want from the comfort of your own computer.

Researchers who now work doing this digging for scholars and writers will probably one day be mostly out of a job, but such easy access to this nation’s historical documents can only be good – now everyone can see the sources for themselves.

Check out the site.  It’ll keep you quite busy.

Published in: on January 9, 2007 at 10:59 am  Comments (7)  

A Cavalry Charge

Yesterday I “discovered” a primary source on the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station that I had never seen before.  It is an address by a former officer in a Massachusetts infantry regiment, a regiment that accompanied the Federal cavalry that day and participated in heavy skirmishing.  The address was read at an event in Boston in 1884, and it was given a limited publishing that same year.

The address is fascinating, and is the best description of the Federal column’s march to Beverly Ford that I’ve ever seen.  Most accounts of the battle completely skip that portion of the event.  And the perspective from an infantry officer is quite refreshing, revealing details I’d never known about.

Once I’d read through it, I had to find out if anyone has ever used it before in a book or article.  A search of my library last night turned up only one book that used it, and there’s only a couple references to it.  99% of the fabulous stuff has been untouched all these years.

One paragraph of this source (which is over 20 pages total) is the officers’ wonderful description of Gen. John Buford’s mounted cavalry charge early in the action near St. James’ Church.  (It reminded me a bit of Francis Durivage’s famous poem “The Cavalry Charge.”)  Here it is:

The soft, dewy grass of the morning was now kicked and trampled into dry dust.  The infantry held the enemy in the open space beyond the woods; while Buford hurled his squadrons, with drawn sabres, upon the Rebel cavalry on the right and left.
A sabre charge, with both sides going at top speed, is, perhaps, the most exciting and picturesque combination of force, nerve, and courage that can be imagined.  The commanding officers leading in conspicuous advance; the rush, the thunder of horses’ hoofs; the rattle of arms and equipments, – all mingling with the roar of voices, while the space rapidly lessens between the approaching squadrons.  The commanders who were seen, a moment before, splendidly mounted, dashing on at racing speed, turning in the saddle to look back at the tidal wave which they are leading, disappear in a cloud of sabres, clashing and cutting; but the fight is partially obscured by the rising dust and the mist from the over-heated animals.  Riderless horses come, wounded and trembling, out of the melee; others appear, running in fright, carrying dying troopers still sitting their chargers, the head drooping on the breast, the sword-arm hanging lifeless, the blood-stained sabre dangling from the wrist, tossing, swinging, and cutting the poor animal’s flanks, goading him on in his aimless flight.  In this moment of intense excitement, the Rebels give way on the left.  Our troopers follow in hot pursuit.  On they go, over the dead and dying…

This is without a doubt the best description of an actual cavalry charge I’ve ever seen, and from an infantryman no less.  The rest of the address is just as fabulous in its specifics, and it amazes me that it has virtually not been used at all.  Eric Wittenberg and I, just starting a three-volume history of cavalry operations during the Gettysburg Campaign, will make full use of this rare source for the first time.

I thought I’d share this piece with my readers, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did when I came across it.

Published in: on January 5, 2007 at 11:09 am  Comments (3)