I haven't really been more than 20 miles away from home in the past five months, and the death of my mother on February 5 was very tough on me. Our winter here in northwestern Pennsylvania was particularly cold and snowy, so when our weather began improving a couple of weeks ago, my cabin fever reached a high pitch. I had previously been scheduled to give a presentation to the Wilmington DE Civil War Roundtable last month, but we rescheduled it to April 1 due to my mom's passing (thanks to fellow author and historian Edward Bonekemper for being able to switch April for March with me).
This past Wednesday morning, I headed off for Wilmington. Rain was forecast for all day, and the weatherman wasn't kidding. Just about all of Pennsylvania was under a cloud, and it rained continuously for the nearly five hour drive from my home to Wilmington - sometime rather heavily. That always makes for a less-than-pleasurable drive, but it was heartening to be able to "get away from home" after so many months. I arrived at the restaurant where the Round Table holds its meetings about an hour early, but I began meeting members there right away. The members of this RT are really some terrific folks. I heartily enjoyed talking with them before and during dinner.
My topic was Jeb Stuart's ride to Gettysburg based on the book by Eric Wittenberg and me - Plenty of Blame to Go Around. After dinner we started the program and I kept it interactive, allowing folks to ask questions along the way. We got right into the logistics of Stuart's eight-day long ride through Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, his orders for doing so, decisions that he made, and the several skirmishes and fights he got into with Union cavalry. Of course, special emphasis was placed on the June 29 clash in Westminster MD with about 100 of the 1st Delaware Cavalry for the members. My talk began about 7:20 pm, and we didn't wrap up until about 9:30 pm. There were lots of questions and comments from the members, and we had a terrific time. Afterwards I sold and signed several copies of the book, as well as some copies that the members already owned and brought to me. It was wonderful hearing how much readers enjoyed the book - that never gets tiring, believe me.
To the members of the Wilmington CWRT, I thank you very much for your kindness and for hosting me for a terrific discussion - and I very much look forward to walking the battlefields with you at some point!
I relaxed in the hotel room that evening, and looked forward to the following couple of days. My publisher Ted Savas was flying in to Baltimore MD and at the last minute we set up a get-together in Gettysburg Friday and Saturday with my co-author on The Complete Gettysburg Guide book Steven Stanley. Ted was bringing his 13 year-old son Demetrius Theodore (D.T.) along, and were going to spend five days in D.C. afterwards to see the sights. In Gettysburg, we were also going to spend some time with Gettysburg Licensed Guides Jim Hessler and George Newton, as well as Antietam ranger and guide John Hoptak and others. (I had not met Jim or John previously, so I was very excited about the time I'd get to spend with all these folks.) I knew the next few days were going to be great fun and with all I'd been through the past couple months, very relaxing and a real battery-charger.
Since Thursday was open, Steve and I met once I arrived in Gettysburg shortly after noon. Steve, who designed and laid out the Gettysburg guide book (in addition to doing the fabulous maps), printed out a copy of it and we took it to Staples to be bound. We needed to take this pre-publication copy to the Gettysburg Visitor Center so ranger Scott Hartwig could give it a final look-over for approval for sale in the VC bookstore. Event Network, who operates the bookstore, had already received approval of the book from the rangers (ranger Eric Campbell also wrote the Foreword) but Scott understandably wished to see a final copy. Scott called me on my cell to let me know when he was available, and we met him that afternoon. After a nice talk with him, Steve and I gave him the copy, which he promised to have back to Steve next week.
While in the VC, we also spoke with a fine lady named Lisa, who manages the bookstore. She was very, very impressed with the book - she had already heard all about it - and highly anticipated its release. The store plans to feature the book front and center at the checkout counter (an author's dream) and they expect it to do well. It is very heartening for Steve and I to have such great support from so many influential folks. The cover of the book contains endorsements from several folks to whom we are very grateful - Eric Wittenberg, LBG Jim Hessler, ranger Eric Campbell, and also Jim Campi, Policy and Communications Director of the Civil War Preservation Trust. Some very interesting things are currently being discussed regarding the book with the Trust and other groups, and I will report more on those as events progress.
Steve and I also discussed book signings that will be set up at the VC bookstore upon the book's release, as well as during the anniversary weekend in July. Those promise to be a lot of fun and we very much look forward to them. Look for more information here and on the book's website to come shortly.
After dinner at Gettysburg Eddie's (formerly the Gingerbread Man) Steve and I went to the Reliance Mine Saloon to meet up with old friends Dwayne Siskey and his fiance Lori. Also there were Jim Glessner (who manages the American History Store on Steinwehr Avenue - the former Greystone building). Jim has converted the store into one of the premier bookstores in town. He also has a large collection of maps for sale there. Since the Farnsworth House bookstore has pretty much turned into a seance room for "ghost hunters," the appeal of that place is over unless you go for that sort of thing. While in town, you have to check out Jim's store and his books, maps, flags, DVDs, etc. Jim's sweet and lovely lady Raequel Fabio was tending bar, and we had a very nice time that evening with everyone. Afterwards, I went to Dr. Dave Moore and his wife Carol's home on Herr Ridge, who always graciously open their home to me when I'm in town.
Friday morning Steve and I had breakfast at Dunlap's, and Ted and his son were due to arrive in town from Baltimore before noon. We decided to all meet at the VC, so that we could see the movie, Cyclorama, and let Ted's son tour the museum. I walked into the bookstore and there was Ted - I recognized him from his picture right away, although we'd never met before. Since he looks more like a New York Italian than a Californian Greek, I knew we'd get along right away...
It was great meeting the fella that I'd talked with and emailed for the past three years, and who has had so much confidence in me and my work. We met his son D.T. - a fine young fellow who was looking forward to seeing Gettysburg. The bookstore had me sign copies of Plenty of Blame and One Continuous Fight that they had recently gotten in, and Ted also signed one of his books. We got some pictures of that that I will post here soon.
The four of us then watched the New Birth of Freedom movie which I thought was fantastically produced and presented. Sure, it's very PC and spends more time on the causes of the war and its results than on the battle of Gettysburg itself, but I was otherwise extremely impressed. It is geared toward the casual visitor and youngsters, which is what it should be.
We then viewed the Cyclorama presentation (which Ted's son really enjoyed) and again I was impressed beyond description. I've seen the old presentation several times - but folks, this new one in its new home will knock your socks off. Don't miss it and see it at least once. The previous day, Steve and I watched the tearing down of the final part of the old Visitor Center, and I hope the old Cyclorama building goes soon.
Although the previous day (Thursday) had been sunny and beautiful, this day (Friday) the skies opened again. It turned chilly, the winds kicked up, and it started raining sideways. Some wind gusts seemed to be 50-60 mph. We met George Newton on Reynolds Avenue and got a nice McPherson Ridge/Railroad Cut/Oak Ridge tour by him. D.T. loved the railroad cut and enjoyed exploring it. Even though the weather was crappy, we had to pull him into the car for the drive to the next stop.
At Oak Hill, I took Ted to the northeastern edge to see the view of the Federal 11th Corps position from the newly-cleared spot there, which you couldn't see previously due to the tree cover. The sense of the enormity of the first day's field is now able to be interpreted.
George then took us to the rarely-visited Jones Avenue, the only park avenue named for a Confederate officer, and one I had completely forgotten about to be honest. I hadn't been there in years. That was very cool! That visit quenched my thirst to constantly see obscure spots.
Ted got settled into his hotel, and I planned dinner at Hoss's restaurant on Rt. 30 east of town to buy Ted one of those many steaks I owe him. LBG Jim Hessler, who penned the new book on Sickles being published by Savas in a few months, joined us there for dinner. Jim is a great guy and great to talk to. I wrote a promotional blurb for Jim's new book, and since it's the most well-researched and even-handed treatment of the man and his methods ever done, I predict it will do extremely well.
After dinner we all met at the Mine, where Dwayne and Lori, Jim and Raequel, and John Hoptak joined us. We had taken Ted to Jim's store earlier and he was duly impressed. About 9:30, Bill Frassanito came in right on schedule, and I introduced Bill to Ted. Ted's son D.T. then shortly sat down with Bill, and the two of them proceeded to have a conversation that lasted an hour and a half. Ted remarked that when he himself was younger and learning about the Civil War, one of this earliest books was Bill's Journey in Time of 1975. Ted recalls poring through that book at about his son's present age. Now, more than 30 years later, Ted was sitting in Gettysburg and watching his son sit beside Bill himself as the two flipped through and talked about the very same book. They say life is a circle - not a straight line - and it was certainly proved that night. I secretly watched Ted's reaction to it all, and I saw Proud Daddy in his eyes.
(William Frassanito and D.T. Savas discuss one of Bill's books. D.T. talked with the Gettysburg legend for about an hour and a half, both of them thoroughly enjoying each other's company. Note that D.T. is actually leaning on Bill's arm as he listens intently.)
The conversation was great, and John Hoptak and Steve and I discussed the next project that we plan to do. John will be very instrumental in assisting with it.
(L to R: Dwayne Siskey, J.D. Petruzzi, Jim Glessner, Jim Hessler, Steve Stanley, Ted Savas, John Hoptak. In front: D.T. Savas - the beer bottle was empty, we promise, Mrs. Savas!)
We stayed until about 12:30 am and then I headed to Dave for some sleep. The four of us planned to do more battlefield touring Saturday morning before Ted and D.T. needed to drive to Washington. Fortunately, Dr. Dave was on call that day and was able to join us for breakfast, and his wife Carol came along too. I should say - fortunately for Ted, Carol joined us that day...
After breakfast, we all jumped in Dave's SUV and Dave agreed to give Ted a quick tour of Culp's Hill. It was sunny, but the wind kicked up again. When atop the observation tower on Culp's Hill, I thought we'd all be blown away. But the view of the entirety of the army's lines from up there was a topic of much discussion. And due to the clearing on Oak Hill, you can now pick it out easily.
I showed Ted where Merritt and his cavalry fought on July 3, as well as a brief overview of Farnsworth's Charge. We took D.T. on Little Round Top (the wind was again nearly strong enough to blow us off there) which he enjoyed. Devil's Den captivated him, and I showed him and Ted the location of the famous July 1863 photo of the dead in the Slaughter Pen. A stop at the Angle and Copse of Trees wrapped up our tour, since Ted needed to get on the road to D.C. for a ballgame later that day.
We all got back to their hotel, and the Savas boys came down the elevator with their luggage to load their rental car (which had to be replaced the previous day since the battery had done dead - another story in itself!). Ted, however, had an anxious look on his face as he slapped his pockets and began searching all their luggage in earnest.
He couldn't find the keys to the car.
Where they in the room? "Nope, I checked there - the room's clean."
In the luggage? Your jacket? Packed away in one of the bags? "Nope. Nope. Nope."
Dave mused that his wife Carol always finds things that others are looking for. "Yeah, okay," Ted responded, apparently not convinced. We suggested we go up into their room and check it one more time. Ted had to go to the counter to get another room key, since he'd lost the other - notice a pattern here? - and we went up to it. Once in the room, we fanned out like characters on CSI. Dave went to the bathroom, I got on my hands and knees and began looking under the beds, and Steve started checking the tables. When I found Gideon's bible in the drawer, I began singing the Beatles' "Rocky Racoon," but I don't think Ted was amused.
A moment later, Carol held something up in the air, jingled it, and said, "Is this it?"
Ted threw his hands up in the air and squealed.
Apparently, the keys had been on the bed but got covered by the comforter. As Dave predicted, Carol indeed found them. Ted gave her a big hug, and joked about the fact that since his own wife's name is Carol, he was here in Gettysburg hugging another Carol in his hotel room. We christened her "Alternate Carol," but we can't tell Ted's wife about it. Hhmm, maybe I shouldn't have written about that...
Dave helped Ted plan the drive to D.C., and they headed off. Again, it was terrific finally meeting Ted, spending loads of quality time with him, and talking about anything and everything. We talked about the future and planned some good things. I enjoyed showing his son around a bit - they are our future keepers of history after all. Ted called in a couple hours to say he'd gotten to their D.C. hotel alright, even though it was Cherry Blossom weekend with lots of people in the city. I just hope Ted can remember where he keeps his hotel and car keys this time - if Carol has to drive there to help him out again, she might charge him time and mileage.
Steve had gone to Virginia that morning to pick up his daughter Ashleigh, and the three of us make a few stops in town. We went to Jim's store so I could pick up a great copy of the Elliot map of burials on the battlefield that I wanted. I have the map in sections, but I've always wanted one large map that I could use, and Jim has them along with about a dozen other historical maps of the field.
I took off for home about 5:00 pm, refreshed and batteries charged again. The few days were enjoyable, interesting, educational, and - perhaps more importantly - very amusing at times. I needed that. I'd love to forget the past couple months. Having this new book come out gives Steve and I something to very much look forward to, and taking this early trip to Gettysburg helped me look forward to a great year that didn't begin so well. I realize I've been a bit down lately, and I'm now fired up to work hard. Thank you all for all your support, and for bearing with me.
Ted, Steve and everyone - thanks for a great several days in Delaware and Gettysburg. And Ted - watch those keys. D.T., maybe watch your Dad.... besides keeping him straight, you can learn a hell of a lot from him.