Leesburg VA CWRT Visit

This past Tuesday evening, I did a presentation for the good folks of the Leesburg Va Civil War Round Table at the invite of my good friend Jim Morgan.  The Round Table holds their monthly meetings in the famed Thomas Balch Library.  Prior to the meeting, I got the grand tour of the facilities, and it’s more impressive than I had imagined – it was the first time I’d been able to see the library holdings.  I will definitely be returning to spend a few days among their books, archives, maps, etc.

The subject of my talk was our new book on the retreat from Gettysburg, One Continuous FightAlong with an overview of the book, I spoke in detail about a couple related episodes that we relate in the book.  The first was the July 5, 1863 skirmish at Granite Hill southwest of Gettysburg along the Fairfield Road, a little rear-guard scrap previously unidentified until our book.  It had a local connection for Leesburg since Lt. Col. Elijah White and 250 troopers of his 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry were literally the rear guard of the Confederate main army retreat column.  At about 6pm that day, Lige and his troopers, along with a couple of regiments of Ewell’s Corps and an artillery battery, skirmished with elements of Sedgwick’s Federal 6th Corps.  A small-scale charge by the Federals was repulsed, and the action only served to harass the rear of Ewell’s column and stymie Sedgwick’s pursuit.

The second episode I talked about was the Gettysburg retreat experience of the commander of the 4th Texas Infantry, Lt. Col. Benjamin Franklin Carter.  Carter was badly wounded in the face, hand, and leg during the assault on Little Round Top of July 2, and was taken along the retreat in the wagon train of wounded.  Too badly wounded to continue toward Hagerstown, Carter was left in the care of some citizens along the Pine Stump Road.  He was soon captured by pursuing Federals and taken to Chambersburg.  Cared for there by the mother of a Federal officer whom Carter himself had cared for during the Battle of Second Manassas until Carter was taken to a hospital and died on July 21, Carter’s experience is an amazing twist of fate.  I am currently finishing up a detailed article about Carter’s story that we will have published in Gettysburg Magazine.  The Round Table folks seemed to enjoy the talk and we had over a half hour of questions and answers that I very much enjoyed.

It was a great pleasure meeting Craig Swain, who comments here frequently and on Eric’s blog, and also meeting local historian Richard Crouch.  Richard and I share an interest in Lige White, the Loudoun Rangers, and crazy ol’ John Mobberly, and sometime-member of White’s band and also Mosby’s Rangers.  Mobberly was hunted down and killed at the end of the war, and I will be profiling him here on this blog soon.

The hospitality of the Round Table members was wonderful, and I really enjoyed my visit.  On my way out of town on Wednesday morning, I stopped at Lige White’s grave in the Union Cemetery, and also made a quick visit to White’s Ferry on the Potomac.  Loudoun County is one of the prettiest places on Earth as far as I’m concerned, and I look forward to each time I can visit.

Published in: on August 15, 2008 at 10:00 am  Comments (7)  

With apologies to Becky…

Tonite I got a call from my good friend Dave Moore of Gettysburg.  I’ve known Dave now for nearly 15 years, and he was one of the groomsmen at my wedding along with Eric, Mike Nugent, Steve Basic, and Dwayne Siskey.  Dave and his wife Carol’s home on Herr’s Ridge is generously offered as a base of operations for each of my visits to Gettysburg, and they both have been priceless friends to me.  Eric, Mike and I often stay there and Dave loves nothing more than to go battlefield stomping – wherever that battlefield may be.

The reason Dave called was because the cases of our new book One Continuous Fight: The Retreat From Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4 14, 1863 arrived at his home today.  Since Eric, Mike and I are doing several book signings in town this weekend, our publisher Ted Savas had 800 of the books sent to Dave’s house.  There are 100 copies for each of us, and the rest are copies ordered by Gettysburg stores and the Visitor Center bookstore.  There are 67 cases of books in all.

Needless to say, that many cases takes up a lot of room in Dave’s garage.  The books arrived this afternoon by UPS, and the driver needed help from Carol unloading them because it was so much for one person to handle.  The UPS driver made the comment that he was glad he didn’t see any cops around, because his truck was seriously overweight for the roads he had to take!  The entire truck was taken up by this one order, and I guess his tires were quite flattened!  Hilarious.

Dave and Carol’s 16 year-old daughter Becky passed her driver test today, so Dave allowed her to drive the car back home later by herself and – since Dave didn’t know the books had arrived – Dave told Becky to pull the car in the garage to get some practice.  Apparently, when she put the garage door up, she had to call Dad that there was no room for her to get in there – it was all taken up by a “bunch of boxes”!

So, our apologies to Becky.  You will be able to pull in the garage once we get the books out this weekend.

Published in: on June 2, 2008 at 10:38 pm  Comments (4)  

Gettysburg Visitor Center Anticipation

When you’re used to something, when your “environment” becomes comfortable, anything that changes about it can be both upsetting and exciting.  This applies to a lot of things – home, work, family life – but in this case, I have those feelings regarding the new Visitor Center at Gettysburg, which is opening to the public next week.

For all my visits to Gettysburg, my first stop had been the old Visitor Center (Rosensteel building).  Most times, I hardly really needed to go in there… heck, I’ve seen every weapon on display in there a million times (I probably can run the serial numbers of the revolvers off by heart) and visits in the bookstore had me looking around for about an hour at books I either already have or don’t need.  The only time I’d buy any would be when an interesting new one came out.  I always liked to buy books in the VC bookstore because there was some feeling for me of “buying it at the Park.”  I really didn’t have any loyalty to Eastern National (which ran the bookstore) but it just felt “familiar” to buy there.

But a trip to Gettysburg just wouldn’t be complete without going into the VC.   I’d come out of there with no new books, didn’t see a display I wasn’t already intimately familiar with, didn’t really experience anything new.  But stopping in was a tradition for me as important as taking at least one quiet stroll through the National Cemetery at dusk each visit.  If I came home without doing either of those, I’d feel like I missed something.

I’ll be making my first trip to Gettysburg next weekend for the History Meets the Arts event.  I have a few book signings around town I have to do, but I’ve always enjoyed this particular weekend.  Spring has usually sprung, it’s usually my first visit after a long cold winter, and seeing old friends and taking in the sights charges my batteries up for the season.  I live about three hours northwest of Gettysburg and when the weather starts getting nicer about this time of year, one of the things I anticipate is that first trip for History Meets the Arts.

With the opening of the new VC, this trip, of course, will be entirely different compared to decades of early spring visits for me.  I’ve been watching the progress of the construction of the buildings over the past year during my visits, and I even got a sneek peak at the restoration of the Cyclorama painting last year with some close Ranger friends of mine.  But it’s no longer familiar – giving me those feelings of change and anticipation.  There’ll be no more trips into the old VC… hearing those sounds of young children running around among the displays, that voice on the PA system announcing times for the showing of the good ol’ Electric Map, the smell of the bookstore, and the walk across the road to the cemetery.

Yet, I’m very excited about the new facility.  Regardless how homey and familiar the old place was, it’s high time Gettysburg gets new digs.  The old place was ruining the artifacts, and the horribly-designed Cyc building was ruining the painting (and wasn’t even large enough to display it all).  People will (and have begun to) find all sorts of things to criticize about the new facility, but besides the reclamation of much of the battlefield landscape, I don’t think anything more wonderful could have taken place at Gettysburg than the construction of these new facilities.  The artifacts will now be properly preserved and displayed, the bookstore promises to be bigger and better, and the research facilities are reportedly world-class.

Next Friday, when I walk up to the front door of the new place, I’ll have to take a deep breath.  All that’s familiar will now be new.  I’ll walk around inside like a little kid in a brand-new school… nervous, unsure, but hoping I “fit in.”  Honestly, I can’t wait.

Eventually, too, once the old buildings are razed and the grounds reclamed as much as possible, that too will be an enormous change.  When the old National Tower was taken down a number of years back, the new vista took a while getting used to.  When you’re used to seeing that stupid thing in the sky (and even using it as a landmark when you’re at places like East Cavalry Field, etc.) it took a while getting used to not seeing it anymore.  The taking down of the buildings and elimination of the parking lots is going to take a while to get used to as well.  Not seeing the old VC complex on the right when one drives up Hancock Avenue will be quite a change to the senses for a long time.

For a while, folks will criticize some things about the new place.  Most, I think, will fall in love with it like they had the old.  Let’s also see how our children – the future of the study of our history – react.  If the snazzy new theater draws them into the aura of Gettysburg – the Civil War – our Nation’s sanguinary struggle with itself – then it has accomplished its goal.  If they marvel over some of the artifacts and displays like they do their iPods and cell phones, then maybe we’ve captured something inside of them that they’ll hang onto as adults.  Kids in the future won’t know what it was like to walk into “our” old Visitor Center, but they’ll have this new one as their own. 

So for the next week or so, I’ll look forward to the trip with nervousness, anticipation, and hope.  And I’m sure that once I have a chance to check the place out and think about it, at some point (hopefully sooner rather than later) I’ll feel “home” again.  After all, it’s all for the veterans who gave their last full devotion, for the preservation of the ground upon which many spent and lost their youth, and for our kids that must carry on after us.

Published in: on April 9, 2008 at 10:22 am  Comments (2)  

Mop-top diversion

I’m going to take a bit of a well-earned diversion from work and writing later today.  This afternoon, I’m driving to that shining gem of the East – Buffalo, New York – to see a little concert that I’ve been looking forward to for some time.  There is a band called “Beatle Magic” that is, from all reports, an excellent Beatles tribute band.  They have a website that gives a lot of details on the band, their performances, and is loaded with pictures.  They are performing at the Tralf, which will give the performance a kind of night club atmosphere tonite.

I was born in 1965, so my appreciation of music came a bit late in the Beatles era – but when about 4 or 5 years old I had already long listened to Beatles music and was very familiar with it.  In fact, one of my earliest “music memories” was the release of “Hey Jude.”  Wow – I loved that song.  I loved it when my little AM radio played the long version.  I hated it when they played that short version.  Needless to say, I was very familiar with those last couple years of the band’s music, and was heartbroken when they broke up.  It wasn’t long before I discovered their earlier music, and ever since I’ve been an unabashed Beatles fan.  Over the years I’ve collected all their music.  Today, not only do I have all the albums on CD, but I also have (gently put away in protective cases, of course) every vinyl album and many of the 45s.  I have a very rare UK-only release of one of their first LPs that a friend got for me when stationed in England, and just about all of those “extra” LPs released in the 80’s and 90’s… ones such as “Beatles Rarities” and the like.  I even have one of the very rare “Yesterday” LPs that has the “butcher cover” instead of the replacement cover that shows the Fab Four sitting around a large luggage trunk.  How many of those scrapped covers do you see around anymore?

I got to see the Beatlemania film when it came out shortly after John Lennon’s murder in 1980, and just recently bought a hard-to-find VHS of the film.  The darn thing’s never been released on DVD and probably never will.  But at least I have the tape!

I’m looking forward to the performance tonite.  My wife isn’t really into the music, but since I have three tickets I’ll be taking her sister and one of her brothers with me.  Her brother is a big Fab Four fan, and her sister lives in Buffalo.  We’ll have a good time.  I enjoy spending time with them, and the show will be a really nice break from the work lately.  Plus, I just know that once I hear the music, it will slip me back in time nearly 40 years ago… I suspect I’ll feel like that little kid again, lying in bed and listening to my little radio, trying to keep it down so my parents don’t know I’m not asleep yet.

Take me back, John, Paul, George and Ringo… take me back.  I’m ready.

Published in: on March 20, 2008 at 10:29 am  Comments (7)  

Well, that just hit home

I posted recently about the current case involving Daniel Lorello and his theft of items from the New York State Library, some of which he’s sold on eBay over the past few years.  There’s been a good deal of it on the media, and I felt pretty disconnected from the whole thing until I opened my mail this morning.

In it was a letter from the Attorney General’s Office of the State of New York.  What the heck could I be getting from them? I thought.  Once I got my hands to stop trembling… I opened it.  In it was a letter from the Deputy Bureau Chief.  After an opening paragraph that described the Lorello case and his eBay sales of some items, the letter continued:

“An analysis of eBay records shows that on January 5, 2006, you purchased an item from Mr. Lorello for which you posted a positive feedback on the eBay internet web site.  Please notify me by letter… with a description of the item.”

The letter goes on, instructing me to look at the item for State of New York markings, etc. and to scan and photograph it.

Once visions of becoming a ward of the Empire State, donning one of those funky orange jumpsuits, and being some huge fella’s girlfriend passed from my mind, I took a moment to try to think of what the heck I might have bought from Lorello.  To my knowledge, the only items I bought from anyone on eBay in about the last 4 years were an engraving of Gen. George Stoneman, and an official document signed by him.  I believe that it’s the latter that probably came from Lorello.  The document is currently custom framed and hanging on a wall in my library, along with other autographed documents of Civil War cavalry figures (none of them purchased from eBay).  Looks like this one, however, will have to be packed up and eventually sent back to New York.

So, after thinking I have no reason to think I’d have any involvement in this case, it came home for sure.  Regardless, I am working with the AG’s office (we’ve already had two-way contact today) and they will certainly be getting this document back in order to get it where it rightfully belongs.

Well, the wife tells me that there are flashing lights at the house, sirens going off all over, and fellas in ATF jackets with sunglasses are putting up that yellow ribbon across my library.  Pictures of everything on the walls are being snapped, stuff is being dusted for fingerprints, and some guy with a clipboard is apparently asking exactly when I will be home from the office.

Um, gotta run…

Published in: on February 6, 2008 at 12:31 pm  Comments (6)  

Best military sentiment heard

For all the hot air and silliness that accompanies such Presidential campaigns like the one we’re suffering through now, once in a while a gem is heard.  I caught this one during a Mike Huckabee (Rep-Arkansas) speech, and it’s one of the best I’ve heard in a long time (I’m going by memory since I don’t have the text of the speech on hand):

“A good soldier doesn’t fight because he hates those in front of him… he fights because he loves the ones behind him.”

Well said. 

Published in: on January 10, 2008 at 5:38 pm  Comments (3)  

Happy New Year wish

From my family to yours, a very happy, healthy, safe, and productive New Year!  Throughout 2007, I got to meet many, many new folks at Civil War Roundtables across the country, and made many new friends.  I was treated with the utmost kindness and hospitality everywhere I went, and I appreciate all of the kind words about my work.

This year has certainly seemed like a long one – about 600 days long rather than 365, and I look forward to 2008.  It will be very interesting with the release of my new book and some new articles, and there’s lots more work to do.  I’m an outside-type guy, so I’m already ready for spring here in Western PA (which unfortunately won’t be coming for another 3 months or so).  Until then, I guess I’ll be shoveling snow and bracing against the cold.

There’s only a few hours left in this year, so I hope everyone is safe tonite however you celebrate – and hold your loved ones close.

Happy New Year to all!

Published in: on December 31, 2007 at 4:44 pm  Comments (3)  

Happy Holidays to All!

I’d like to wish all of my readers a very Happy Holiday Season and a Prosperous and Safe New Year.  This blog has really grown over the past year or so, garnering some 300 or so readers daily.  I appreciate all of your support, kind words, and assistance.

Later today I will be joining my wife and daughter at the in-laws’ in upstate New York, where we will spend Christmas.  We’re then coming back Tuesday night for our traditional Christmas Day evening in front of the fireplace, opening gifts, and enjoying family time.  To everyone who is likewise traveling, please be careful and safe.

The very best from my family to yours!

Published in: on December 24, 2007 at 12:19 pm  Comments (3)  

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)  

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: https://petruzzi.wordpress.com/

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)