Very nice news

Ted Savas, the publisher of the book by Eric Wittenberg and myself on Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg, Plenty of Blame To Go Around, just informed us that there are only 35 copies left of the second edition in stock.  The book was released last September so in just 14 months or so both editions are virtually sold out.  Ted is ordering up another printing so that books will be available.

We can’t thank our readers enough for the support and acceptance of this book.  We really look forward to the next book, by Eric, myself, and Mike Nugent on the retreat from Gettysburg set for release June 2008.  Perhaps there will be some type of combination offer available for the two books, for those who don’t have the first.  The covers are very similar and were designed to be a set match.

Again, thank you to everyone who has purchased the book and made it such a wonderful seller!

Published in: on November 29, 2007 at 11:25 am  Comments (2)  

From hole in the fence to behind home plate

I just caught this review of the expanded re-issue of one of my favorite Civil War books on Civil War Interactive by Joe Avalon.  The original publication of Sam Watkins’ Company Aytch is a treasured part of my library, and I was excited to see the publication of this “new” version which includes Sam’s later revisions.  I’ve ordered my copy, and have reproduced Joe’s review here, which can be found at this link.

Co. “Aytch”
First Tennessee Regiment

Sam Watkins’ Revised and Expanded Edition
Never Before Published

Edited by Ruth Hill Fulton McAllister
Published by Providence House Publishing
294 Pages; Hardcover
Review by Joe Avalon
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Publisher

The term “classic” is sometimes overused. For a book to become a classic takes more than simply voluminous sales. It’s a more encompassing adjective. A classic must influence, it must educate, it must be long-lived and must have steered readers to a quest for more information on the subject it tackles. The label is hard-earned, and rightfully so. Co. Aytch is a classic in the truest sense. And with the publication of this new edition it is about to reach a new plateau – to become a classic for a second time.

     For those unfamiliar with the original Co. Aytch, it is enough to say it is the ultimate Civil War memoir. Sam Watkins had the ability and the phraseology which allowed him to pen the memoirs in a way which instantly appealed to the common man. But yet he had the power of observation of an Ambrose Bierce, aided by being present at some of the most dramatic and traumatic moments in the Civil War.

   The original Co. Aytch was published by Sam in 1882, with a limited run of 1500 copies. It sold well. By 1892, Sam Watkins was ready to release a new edition. He wanted to expand the first edition, as well as make some corrections. Carefully he made the changes, additions and deletions by hand in his own personal copy of Co. Aytch. But it would cost $500 for a new edition to be printed, so Sam began to raise the needed money. Several men, including General Lucius Polk, pledged to become subscribers at $10 per head. But for whatever reasons, the second edition would not be published. Sam would die in 1901, and all that was left of his dreams for a “new” Co’ Aytch was that one personal copy of the first edition, in which he has scrawled all of the changes.

     Throughout the 20th-century, that lone volume would stay at the family home – Rookwood – while some family members moved on and others moved in. In 1997, Ruth Hill Fulton McAllister, the great-grand daughter of Sam, asked other family members if she could borrow the original to peruse Sam’s handwritten changes. It was then the family realized with horror that Sam Watkins’ original copy was nowhere to be found.

     It was almost two years later that, no doubt with a great sense of relief, Mrs. McAllister received a phone call from a cousin. The book had been found. A long-forgotten desk had revealed Sam’s original copy, yellowed and brittle, but still readable. After perusing the copy and attempting to return it, Ruth Hill Fulton McAllister’s cousin offered to sell her the volume. She jumped at the chance. A few years later she decided that fulfilling Sam’s original intention of publishing this edition of Co. Aytch would be of great interest to many. And that is why, 126 years after the first publication of Co. Aytch, we are blessed with a second edition, with all of the changes Sam wanted to make.

     The changes themselves reveal a remarkable transformation in Sam over the period 1882 to 1892. Maturation may be a more appropriate term. It becomes obvious that Sam spent these years re-living his war experiences in his head and found himself with a different mindset then when he had penned the first edition. His perception of certain events, and more interestingly, certain officers and politicians, had changed. He seems to have softened slightly in his views of his former foes. At the same time, there is a certain hardening of his views with regards to some things Confederate.

     This new edition shows the transformation which society itself, not just Sam, was undergoing in that 10 year period. With the war over only 17 years when the original Co. Aytch was published, along with the added animosity of Reconstruction, the war, in 1882, could still be considered an open wound. It festered with hard-feelings and lingering bitterness. Some of that was obvious in Sam’s writings. But with this new edition, we see  a striking change. With some deletions, some small changes ( such as taking great pains to refer to Northerners as “federals” rather than “Yankees”), and more substantial additions we see a moderation. On one page Sam makes the following addition:

The majority of Southern soldiers are today the most loyal to the Union. Many disown the Southern cause and have buried in forgetfulness all memory of the war…

The blue and the gray have, like two mighty rivers, come together and now mingle into one and both now unite in the sentiment “We are one and undivided.”

     As we can see, while the animosity may have diminished, his ability to be almost poetic in his prose did not. But lest you think Sam had developed only misty water-colored memories of the way things were, other additions could bite like a rabid dog. Note this addition concerning Braxton Bragg:

General Bragg was a disciplinarian, a shooter of men, and a whipper of deserters. But he was not any part of a general. As a general he was a perfect failure, but as a shootist he was a perfect success. It mattered not. When a smoke was seen to rise, some soldier would say, “Waal, old Braggin’ Braggart is startin’ a new graveyard. ‘Tother one is nigh about full!”

Had General Robert E. Lee been the Commander in Chief of our armies, General Joe E. Johnston our Commisary and Quartermaster, General Stonewall Jackson and General N. B. Forrest been our field commanders, and then let Bragg been the whipper and shooter and hanger of evildoers, then our cause would have been a success.

     To have the ability to assassinate with such subtlety, and even wit,  is one of the qualities which helped make the original Co. Aytch a great piece of literature. And with this new expanded edition, we thankfully see more of the same. As Ken Burns states as a testimonial of this  book, “The only thing better than Sam Watkins is more Sam Watkins…”

     There are scores of such additions in this work. The range from single words, to sentences, to whole paragraphs and at time whole pages and more. Perhaps just as intriguing however is seeing exactly what Watkins had planned on deleting from the first edition. With some of the deletions, we are left to wonder why he considered removing them, for example this gem from the Shiloh chapter:

As we advanced, on the edge of the battlefield, we saw a big fat Colonel of the Twenty-third Tennessee regiment badly wounded, whose name, if I remember correctly, was Matt. Martin. He said to us, “Give ’em Hail goss, boys. That’s right, my brave First Tennessee. Give ’em Hail Columbia!” We halted but a moment, and said I, “Colonel, where are you wounded?” He answered in a deep bass voice, “My son, I am wounded in the arm, in the leg, in the head, in the body, and in another place which I have a delicacy in mentioning.” That is what the gallant old Colonel said.

     And so the reader of this new edition is left to ask “Why Sam, why were you going to remove that?” Was it pointed out to him by someone that perhaps he “mis-remembered” the incident? Or was it for another reason? We are left to wonder, and that’s a good thing. And it brings up what is, other than Sam’s writing itself, the biggest asset of this new edition – the decision on how to edit and format it.

     There are so many ways that this endeavor could have been ruined that it’s frightening to think about. The publisher (Providence House Publishing) could have elected to publish the volume exactly as Sam was going to – actually deleting the parts he was going to remove, while adding the new parts and other changes, while giving no indication of the differences between the two editions. What a tragedy that would have been, since it is being able to see the changes (and knowing what they are) that makes the new book not just great reading, but a mirror of the societal changes the country underwent in one decade.

     Or they could have decided to put all the changes – additions, deletions and others – in an appendix, forcing the reader to flip to the back of the book constantly and making the book burdensome to read and comprehend.

     Instead, they handled it perfectly, relying solely on unobtrusive font changes to indicate the differences:

  • The original text of the first edition is all there, in normal font.

  • Where Sam indicates that he was going to add new material, that text is bolded.

  • [Passages he was going to add, then decided against are indicated as bold within brackets ]

  • [ Passages Sam planned on deleting are italicized within brackets ]

     Simply perfect.

     We try to avoid sweeping statements when doing book reviews. Phrases like “this is a must-have book” and “vital for every Civil War library” are over-used and frequently abused. But this is a must have book that is vital for every Civil War library.

     Reading this new edition of Sam Watkins classic Co. Aytch is like the difference between seeing a baseball game through a knothole in the outfield fence and a seat behind home plate. It’s the same event, but the expanded view makes it a whole ‘nother experience.

     The Civil War community owes a great debt of gratitude to Ruth Hill Fulton McAllister for allowing the rest of us to be part of this family treasure.

 Buy From Amazon

Published in: on November 28, 2007 at 12:47 pm  Comments (1)  

Happy Thanksgiving to all

During this holiday, created by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War to remind the country of its blessings, I want to wish all of my friends and readers an enjoyable and safe time.  Amidst the crass commercialism that always goes on this time of year (and is really going to fire up come “Black Friday”), I think it’s good to try to take a little time to count those blessings.

I’m extremely thankful, foremost, for my loving family.  They support me in everything I do.  My wife is truly my best friend and I am blessed to be the one she chose.

I have wonderful friends, so many of whom share my love of history.  They are brothers and sisters to me, and I thank all of you for your kindness, your smiles, and your encouragement.  Each moment I get to spend with you is a treasure.

I’m also a lucky sonofagun… I have a publisher and magazine editors who believe that my writing is worthy, and their support and encouragement keeps me going.  I work extremely hard at my research and trying to find “the story” from details that all too often are shrouded in mystery and the extended past.  That these folks allow me to tell that story makes me very lucky indeed.

Finally – and these folks have been included above – my adopted brothers Eric, Mike, Duane, Steve and Dave are very special to me.  Thank you, guys, for always being there.  You’ll never know what a difference you’ve all made in my life.

I wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving – and I’d say “don’t eat too much Turkey” but I try never to give advice that I don’t intend to follow myself!

(When I make a turkey sandwich, I make a turkey sandwich…)

Published in: on November 21, 2007 at 10:33 am  Comments (2)  

Inspiration at Gettysburg

I try to make the trip to Gettysburg for each Remembrance Day anniversary weekend each year.  The past five such events in November have been for me (and I’m sure thousands of others) very inspiring.  Five years ago, the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg in conjunction with several other groups have sponsored a Luminaria in the National Cemetery.  It’s similar to the one held at Antietam.  At Gettysburg, small white bags holding candles are placed at each Civil War grave throughout the cemetery, as well as along the walking paths and the Soldier’s National Monument.  This past Saturday night had a pitch-black sky, and the candles were something to behold.  Besides giving one a tangible reminder of how many hero dead are in the cemetery, the sight is quite inspiring – it always gives me a feeling that, for just those few brief hours, each of the Gettysburg dead have life in those flames.  Each of them has identity, especially the hundreds that have only the word “Unknown” upon their final resting place.

I have to admit that each Luminaria has inspired my research and writing, giving my creative batteries a boost each year.  I do much of my writing over the winter months, so the timing is fortuitous in that respect.  Seeing those flames and each of those lives snuffed out by the hand of war inspires my efforts to memorialize them in my own small way by writing about their deeds.  For me, that’s what it’s all about – my writing has never been about my own recognition or ego… it has always been about putting down on paper what they did.  In the vast majority of cases, those soldiers and civilians did what I could never do.  They were much braver, clever, and experienced than most of us could hope to be, just like the thousands of heroes today who wear the uniform.

I’ve always felt the same about my reenacting and living history portrayal – I believe that reenactors and historians, if they do it right, are some of the most unselfish folks around.  We portray souls of the past, and try to bring them to life for others.  We all know living historians who seem to pretend to be the person they’re portraying – almost as if they are them.  Sometimes they seems to have a problem separating themselves from their persona.  When they have this attitude, in my opinion, they’ve taken it too far and simply don’t have a clue how to properly memorialize the person they’re portraying.  Those who portray individuals of history with respect, humility, and a proper sense of place have it right.  In other words, if you bring respect to the memory of that individual, regardless of who they were – Meade, Forrest, Sickles, Hancock, Lee, you name it – then you’re on the right track.

Perhaps, I’ve thought for some time now, the flickering flame of a candle brings as much or more light and respect to all of those heroes than we could ever hope to, whether it’s by donning a costume or putting pen to paper.

If you haven’t yet been able to attend a luminaria at a battlefield or cemetery, consider doing so.  Even on a chilly night, the warmth from those little flames will warm your heart and your own soul.  And spend it with best friends like I did… there’s nothing more inspiring in the world.

Published in: on November 20, 2007 at 10:50 am  Comments (3)  

Amazing interest

When you have a blog such as this, whether it be hosted by WordPress, BlogSpot, or any similar provider, there are administrator pages where you can look at all sorts of statistics regarding your blog.  WordPress, the host of this blog for instance, has pages that tell me what kind of traffic it has each day – how many people view the blog, and which particular posts are being looked at.

I usually check that out every couple days or so, just to see which posts are generating interest at any particular time.  But what has constantly amazed me is that day in and day out, there are two posts on this blog that get looked at about a dozen times each day (they’re usually getting the most traffic other than new posts) and they are being seen by folks doing searches for these particular topics.

The two posts I’m talking about are the ones I put up on Horse Hooves and Myths (from Aug. 1, 2007), and The McClellan Saddle (from May 30, 2007).  And I didn’t even write these particular pieces – my buddy (and co-author of the new book by Eric and I) Mike Nugent wrote them.  As I mentioned, these posts are being viewed many times each day because folks are doing web searches for information about the placement of horse hooves on equestrian statues, and the Mac saddle.

This tells me that the legend about hooves and the “hidden meaning” behind them on statues is getting a lot of airplay these days – whether from folks’ visits to such statues, or perhaps what they’re being told by tour guides, I don’t know.  But there’s been a lot of discussion about the topic for some time.  Check out various Civil War and historical chat boards and forums, and you will run across a discussion of hoof placement on statues from time to time.  And there have been lots of interest in the Mac saddle for years… I seem to get at least a half a dozen emails looking for information on it each year, which I pass on to Mike.

Anyway, I find the interest in these two topics quite amazing.  Time and again, whenever I check which posts on this blog are getting the most traffic, besides new posts it’s always these two, and the hits are coming directly from internet search pages such as Google, Dogpile, etc.  Mike did a great job with those particular topics, and they sure do get a lot of looks.

Published in: on November 14, 2007 at 11:00 am  Comments (1)  

The Chronicles of Savas

My publisher Ted Savas of Savas-Beatie LLC has dipped his toes into the blogosphere, and started his own blog called A Publisher’s Perspective.  Thank goodness, too – Ted is a very insightful, intelligent, and witty individual (there, Ted, please send my check soon)… seriously, having Ted’s thoughts and opinions about the publishing and writing business should be very educational and revealing.  Ted has, in fact, one of only a couple individual publisher’s blogs that I’m aware of.  Watch this one – I expect each post to be a good one.

Incidentally, Savas-Beatie’s Marketing Manager Sarah Keeney has also started a marketing-based blog called On Marketing – Working With Authors.  This also promises to be an interesting read each day.  I’ve worked with Sarah quite often over the past year and a half or so with my books, and I look forward to seeing her perspectives and observations.

Keep an eye on these blogs, and I’ve added links to them to my blogroll.

(When I put Ted’s photo in this post, my system didn’t crash like I feared it would, so that’s good news!)

Published in: on November 13, 2007 at 12:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ranger Mannie – Reader of People

My best Ranger Buddy Mannie put up a nifty post yesterday about the “bloggers” who have recently graced the Unofficial Official Bloggers Cannon in front of the Antietam Battlefield Visitor Center, complete with neato pictures.  Scroll down to see the one from the summer that features Eric, Dimitri, and yours truly.  I was tickled when I read Mannie’s first impression of me:

J.D. on the other hand has that more cool Dean Martin, Italiano, approach to life, always cool, always “yeah baby”, at least that’s how he struck me at our brief meeting at the blogger gun. J.D.’s blog. “Hoofbeats and Cold Steel” (how cool is that?) can be reached at:

Do I really say “yeah baby” all that often?  Hhmm, maybe I do.  Anyway, he’s probably right about my approach to life and the Italiano reference.  They don’t get more Paisan than me.  If it isn’t made with garlic, olive oil (the imported Italian, not that crap on the store shelf) or homemade tomato sauce (called “gravy” mind you), I don’t eat it.  Last night, my typical 10pm snack was a proscuitto sandwich, with black olives and pepperoni on the side.  Sometimes I’ll spice things up a bit with a couple slices of gabbagool.  Uh, that’s “capicola” to you Americans.  You see, Italian is spoken rather quickly, and it becomes more blended phonetics than strict pronunciation of consonants.

Dean Martin – oh yeah.  When I don’t have The Beatles or AC/DC in the CD player, it’s Dino or Francis Albert.  What else is there?

Yep, Mannie, I guess you have me pegged.  Can’t wait to bring my cool self back to Antietam and tag along on another of your tours!  (I’m the cool, laid-back, yeah-baby dude in the white shirt.)

Published in: on November 9, 2007 at 5:21 pm  Comments (5)  

Cavalry Fighting Dismounted

Eric Wittenberg recently made a very interesting post in his series of Forgotten American Cavalrymen of Brig. Gen. Louis H. Carpenter.  In the November 1888 issue of the Journal of the U.S. Cavalry Association (my readers will recall it’s one of my favorite sources) Carpenter wrote a very revealing and detailed piece about how cavalry prepares to fight dismounted.  Mike Nugent passed the piece on to me, reminding me of this great description.

Most folks who have read about actions in which cavalry fought dismounted are familiar with the generalization that one cavalryman held the horses of three of his comrades in the rear, while those three comrades skirmished dismounted at the front.  However, the procedure was very specific and regulated.  When a column or line of cavalry came on the scene, which troopers would dismount and which troopers would be horse-holders was determined very quickly, as you’ll see below.  The description, in fact, will likely remind you of your days in gym class when everyone “counted off” in, say, fours.  Think of that, and you’ll be able to easily picture the scene that Carpenter paints below.

Numbers 1, 2 and 3 of each set of fours, both front and rear rank, dismounting, linked their horses,… No. 3 handing his reins to No. 4, who remained mounted, and three-fourths of the command became available for the work in hand.  The men then formed quickly into line, and were deployed in extended order upon the center skirmisher or the right or left skirmisher, by each man obliquing at once to gain the interval…

In less than half a minute a troop could dismount and deploy as skirmishers.  Sometimes the line would be reinforced to about one man to the yard, but never heavier, and this answered all purposes.  It is surprising when we consider how much was accomplished by this long, thin, apparently weak line of carbineers.  How steadily it could advance under heavy fire, or deliberately retire, flexible, bending, but rarely breaking, keeping up its continuity, and showing a wonderful power of resistance… The soldier becoming accustomed to losing the touch of his comrade, became more self-reliant and dependent upon his own resources, taking advantage of all the over and shelter possible, and more difficult to be persuaded that he was whipped… Reserves and supports were provided for, and kept in hand to render timely aid and to be sent in when necessary.

When the cavalry was dismounted, the horses were sent to the rear to take advantage of the nearest shelter from the enemy’s fire, No. 4 having no difficulty in managing the three horses entrusted to him, or in moving them from place to place at any gait.  In case a retreat became necessary, portions of the dismounted men would fall back alternately, taking new positions in rear, assisted by artillery, until it was possible to mount and retire without interference; or, in other cases, some of the line would be withdrawn and mounted, and then deployed as skirmishers to cover the retreat of the remained, with mounted charges made occasionally on the flanks or front.

So whenever you read about cavalry conducting a skirmish, cover action, or fighting withdrawal dismounted, just think of this wonderful description and it will help you picture both the standard procedure and the effectiveness of the maneuvers.

(Painting by Mort Kunstler, “Hold At All Cost.”

Published in: on November 9, 2007 at 3:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mingus scores another winner

My good friend Scott Mingus Sr. has recently released his latest volume of his “Human Interest Stories” series – this one is Volume 2 of Gettysburg Campaign vignettes.  I recently received a copy from Scott, and it’s as wonderful as the other volumes.  Each volume contains short vignettes of stories, factoids, trivia, and personal experiences all culled from primary sources.  The books are, incidentally, terrific sources in and of themselves, and Eric, Mike and I even used Mingus’ Volume 1 of Gettysburg stories in our recent book on the Gettysburg retreat.

Each volume is priced at only $9.95, well worth it for the enjoyment in each one.  As you read each story, you’ll find yourself alternately shaking your head, chuckling, and wanting to cry.

Click here to find Volume 1 of the Gettysburg series on Amazon (I couldn’t find Volume 2 there yet), or see Colecraft’s website.  You can also contact Scott directly by email at

Published in: on November 8, 2007 at 12:25 pm  Comments (3)  

Drawing nearer…

As the opening of Gettysburg’s new Visitor Center, Museum, and Cyclorama building draws nearer, I thought I’d put up the Gettysburg Foundation’s website on the new buildings for those who haven’t looked through it yet.  There you’ll find several links to look through plans for the extensive collections, the fully restored Cyclorama painting, etc.

Regarding the Cyclorama painting, last year I made a particular special trip to Gettysburg to meet up with Dana Shoaf, now editor of Civil War Times magazine, and some ranger friends – John Heiser, Eric Campbell, and Scott Hartwig.  Dana and I met John at the Cyclorama building that morning, which had recently closed due to the removal of the painting and the beginning of its restoration process.  Most of the painting was carefully rolled up awaiting restoration, but a few panels were displayed under controlled conditions while being worked on.  John took us back to the work center to see what was going on, which was quite special to us – the process, of course, was not open to the public.  We got to see how the restoration process was really bringing back the majestic colors of the original work, and also the several feet of canvas that had been hidden since the original building was incorrectly designed to display it.  I can’t wait to see that old Cyc building come down – it was horribly designed, the roof leaked from the very day the place opened, and atmospheric conditions did more harm than good to the painting… plus the fact that the building (as well as the Rosensteel building of the Visitor Center) were on battlefield land in the heart of the Federal position on Cemetery Ridge.

The new Cyclorama building has been designed to showcase the original painting in all its majesty, instead of the other way around.  I can’t wait to see that.  The new Visitor Center and Museum will showcase the park’s extensive collection of artifacts, the majority of which have been stored away (also under very damaging conditions) due to lack of space.  From what I’ve read, the theater is going to have quite a “wow” factor, and the whole site will be much more conducive to learning – especially for the younger folks.  Let’s hope that the public/private partnership that comprises this venture works out for all.

In addition, the site of the present VC/Cyc buildings will be reclaimed as near as possible, which will re-open the viewsheds in the area of Zeigler’s Grove and that corridor of the Taneytown Road that hasn’t been seen for generations.  Perhaps that will be the most beneficial effect of all. 

When I was in Gettysburg last month, I was able to view the new tree cuttings in the southern part of the field that had been done the prior few weeks, and most recently the area southwest of the Triangular Field and the D-shaped field near the Slyder Farm have been opened up even more.  I eagerly anticipate seeing those areas next week during Remembrance weekend.  Especially the area near the Slyder Farm – much of the tree clearing over the past year has been done in that area, truly helping the interpretation of actions such as Longstreet’s assault of July 2, and Farnsworth’s Charge of July 3.  The clearings have further proved the ridiculousness of one Battlefield Guide’s attempts to “move” Farnsworth’s Charge a half mile to the south near the Maryland border.  It indeed took place exactly where the veterans said it did (regardless of this Guide’s attempts to say they were all hopelessly confused) and the primary descriptions of the ground and the views today prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Like many who have called Gettysburg a “second home” for so long, I am constantly looking at an entirely “new” battlefield.  I couldn’t be happier.

Published in: on November 8, 2007 at 11:43 am  Comments (2)