Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Updated and expanded "Gettysburg's Forgotten Cavalry Actions" by Eric Wittenberg now available

Probably a number of folks know that I cut my Civil War teeth on the cavalry back when I was very young, and the subject of cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign in particular. Back in 1998 during one of my Gettysburg visits, I spotted a new book on the shelves of one of the local bookstores - "Gettysburg's Forgotten Cavalry Actions" by some dude named Wittenberg. I eagerly snapped it up and was excited to see that it contained the first detailed narratives at that time of the cavalry fights at South Cavalry Field and Fairfield. I had long studied those actions and agreed that they were indeed "forgotten" by most historians. Very deservedly, the book won the coveted Bachelder-Coddington award for the best new work on the Gettysburg battle.

The following year, I was a participant in an online Civil War internet chat room, which were really starting to ramp up in those days. One guy I started to chat with went by the chat name "Buford." With my interest in the cavalry, and having long studied the life and service of Union general John Buford, we started "chatting" on a regular basis. When we identified ourselves to the other, I discovered this "Buford" was that Wittenberg dude whose book I so thoroughly enjoyed. About that time, I began to create my old "BufordsBoys" website from primary source material I'd been gathering over the years, and Eric was a great contributor to it. Eric and I soon met in Gettysburg (where else?), we began giving tours together and sharing documentary resources, and after a few years we determined to begin writing some books together about the subjects we love. That began a researching and writing partnership that last until this day.

Back to Eric's first book. The original 1998 version, published then by Gettysburg's Thomas Publications, can be a bugger to find nowadays. It's been out of print for some time, and it was very popular when released. Its subject matter really filled a void in the scholarship, because hardly anyone else had paid much attention to, or wrote detailed narratives of, any of the dozens of cavalry actions that took place during the campaign. I know that those who have a copy of the original version, like myself, truly treasure the book and consider themselves lucky to have a copy.

Happily, publisher Savas Beatie has now worked with Eric to bring out this newly-revised, expanded and completely updated issue of the book. Eric and I have both gathered a wealth of new primary material on the cavalry actions, and he worked all of those into this new book as well as that which I was able to provide to him. Readers will find completely re-worked narratives of Wesley Merritt's and Judson Kilpatrick's battles at South Cavalry Field and the 6th US Cavalry's devastating fight at Fairfield, all on July 3. There are brand-new tours of the all these actions too, with new photographs. One of the aspects I loved about the original version of the book was Gettysburg ranger John Heiser's classic maps. Those are reproduced wonderfully in this new version, and includes a new one by John, too - he graciously snuck out of map retirement to produce it.

There is also an appendix section now, which includes a monograph written by Eric and I together. It deals with, to make a long story short, a silly, undocumented and historically inaccurate "alternate" theory about where Brig. Gen. Elon Farnsworth's Charge took place on the afternoon of July 3. All of the veterans and witnesses place it on what is known and South Cavalry Field, but a few years ago a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide proposed in print her theory that it actually took place about a half mile south of the battlefield. Such a theory never would have gained any traction had it not been for the fact that her writings were poorly vetted (or not vetted at all) and subsequently published in a couple of national magazines. No serious Gettysburg student gave her silliness any credibility, but once something is in print it's impossible to pull back. Thankfully, this inaccurate theory has pretty much died down, but because students and scholars will still encounter her original writings on the subject, we felt it was important to include our documented rebuttal to the theory. You'll be able to read it in its entirety in this new version of Eric's book and we hope that it will lay the subject to rest, as well as help students and scholars who may end up getting temporarily fooled by the theory until they see the actual documentation and evidence.

So, whether you already have the original version of this book or not, you'll absolutely enjoy Eric's updated and expanded version of his award-winning book. And if you were never able to get a copy of the first version, now is your chance to see why it was so lauded as a wonderful and much-needed detailed narrative of cavalry actions during the Gettysburg battle that so often get overlooked. For the full story of the battle, this book is indispensible and will become a treasured tome in either a brand-new way for you (if you don't have the original), or happily all over again.

Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Rashness of That Hour" wins Robertson Prize

Deepest congratulations to my friend Rob Wynstra - his book "The Rashness of That Hour: Politics, Gettysburg, and the Downfall of Confederate Brigadier General Alfred Iverson" (Savas Beatie, 2010) has won the Dr. James I. Robertson Literary Prize for Confederate History Award!

Back in 2009, Rob approached me with his manuscript and asked me if I had any ideas about who might be interested in publishing it. I knew of Rob's work (I had seen an earlier version of the manuscript a number of years back when a publishing company I co-owned considered it) and his newest version was deeply researched, wonderfully written and broke a lot of new ground. Therefore, I thought of my publisher Ted Savas immediately. I contacted Ted and put the two of them in touch, and now it's simply terrific to see Rob's book receive the accolades it richly deserves.

Alfred Iverson is one of those infinitely interesting characters not only of Gettysburg, but the war and in American history itself. You'll enjoy Rob's discussion of Iverson's performance throughout the war, particularly at Gettysburg, and the details of his antebellum and post-war life. Typical to Savas Beatie books, Rob draws upon a wealth of newly-discovered and previously unused sources.

Congratulations Rob! Everyone interested in Gettysburg, Confederate units, the war, and history in general should acquire a copy of this book. Rob is currently working on a book about Robert Rodes' Division in the Gettysburg Campaign, to be published by Savas, and I eagerly anticipate that one as well.

UPDATE: Rob just informed me that the book has also won the prestigious Bachelder-Coddington Award, given each year to the best non-fiction work on Gettysburg... congrats again, Rob, and now I'm really jealous!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Guest Blogger: William Fuzia visits grave of Alfred Pleasonton

I'm honored to have a post here by good friend and guest blogger William R. Fuzia, who portrays Federal Cavalry officer Alfred Pleasonton. William recently visited the final resting place of Pleasonton and his family in Congressional Cemetery near Washington DC. I've been to the grave once years ago, and asked William to take some new photos for me, which he graciously did. The first one shows him at Alfred's government headstone, the only (and simple) marker at the general's grave. William wrote the following for this post:

"Pictures of the humble gravesite of Major General Alfred Pleasonton in the family plot at Congressional Cemetery, Washington D.C. General Pleasonton served as a career Dragoon and cavalryman from 1844 to 1868. He is best known for his command of the Army of the Potomac Cavalry Corps from 1863-64 and was instrumental in bringing the Union Cavalry to age. May he rest in eternal peace. Thank you for your faithful service, general."

And thank you, William, for providing these updated pictures!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Video Trailer for The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook

Our publisher, Savas Beatie, has had a really nice video trailer produced for the new book by me and Steve Stanley - The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook. They did a beautiful and very professional job with the video. As always, if anyone would like a personally inscribed copy of this or any of my books, please visit my website here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

"To Appomattox" blog

My good friends Greg Caggiano and Steven Hancock - also great friends of the To Appomattox production - have just started a blog about the series. It's a great way to stay updated on current news, announcements, casting information, and even contests! Please check it out. Great work, guys.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Interview by Greg Caggiano

Sportswriter, historian and friend Greg Caggiano interviewed me today via email for his blog From New York to San Franciso. He asked terrific questions, ranging from my participation in the "To Appomattox" television miniseries, to the newest book, and even my favorite Civil War movies and generals. It was great fun. Please give it a look, and thank you Greg for letting me yap a little about my passions!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My updated website

Over the past few days, I've been having my personal website re-vamped and updated. It was originally done with Microsoft Front Page (I don't think I even have that software anymore) and hadn't been updated in a couple years. Just a few pages are currently onsite, and the rest will be up soon. Folks will also be able to order personalized and signed copies of my books directly from the site.

If anyone has any suggestions for anything they'd like to see on the website, please drop me a line. Thank you!

Friday, August 5, 2011

"The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook" now available

The new book by myself and Steve Stanley - The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook - is now available. Signed copies are available from our publisher Savas Beatie, and of course it is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most bookstores including all stores in Gettysburg.

Featuring the wonderful maps and complete design by Steve Stanley, we hope you will find the book to be a useful overview of the entire Gettysburg Campaign. The centerpiece of the book is a photo narrative of the complete campaign beginning with the battle of Brandy Station (June 9, 1863) through the crossing of the Army of Northern Virginia over the Potomac River on July 14. We have a section of Gettysburg quotes, trivia, personalities, weather during the battle, Medal of Honor awardees, and the most complete and accurate Order of Battle ever compiled. There is also a section on Visiting Gettysburg, suggested reading and websites, and much more.

We hope you consider buying a copy, and if you have it and enjoy it, please post a review of the book on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble pages. Thank you!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"The Complete Gettysburg Guide" now available as an e-book

The Complete Gettysburg Guide is now available as an e-book for Amazon Kindle. Co-author Steven Stanley has been working very hard the past few months with our publisher, Savas Beatie LLC and our distributor, Casemate to make the e-book just right. Since the book is in full color with Steve's wonderful maps and graphics, the e-book needed a great deal more design work than a simple black-and-white book. We had to make sure that the layout was correct and user-friendly, and Steve and crew did an amazing job. So if you've been waiting to be able to have The Guide on your reading device, please check out the Amazon page.

UPDATE: Many have asked me when the book will be available on the Barnes&Noble Nook - I am told that the formatting will be done no later than the week of July 25, so it should be available very soon!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

History Channel's "Gettysburg" - I have survived

Last night (Monday) I was driving late home from Gettysburg, and arrived home about 1am. Consequently, I wasn't able to watch the new "Gettysburg" show on History until this evening from my DVR. Like many of you, I've been fascinated by the comments I've seen about it on social media such as Facebook, blogs, and especially on History's Facebook page. Nearly without exception, the show has been roundly panned by everyone who has seen it.
First, I think it's fair to state something that others have said amidst the specific criticisms of the show: I still prepared to watch it with a sense of anticipation and hope. Being a three-time production consultant myself, and currently advising on the upcoming To Appomattox series, I'm keenly aware of the need for good Civil War and historical programming to keep interest in our Nation's past alive. All of us - the casually interested to the most informed scholars - desperately yearn for good historical programming and anxiously await the announcement of anything new. When History's Memorial Day showing of "Gettysburg" was announced, all with the expected production qualities of the Scott Brothers, I and many felt that perhaps something great was on the horizon.
My critique of the show follows below. First I will state my criticisms (which run the gamut of the historical narration to details such as uniforms, equipment and terrain) followed by what I perceived as good about the show. And there is a lot of good despite my comments below. I've placed time markers in front of each comment to mark the point in the show to which I'm referring. I know that others have picked up on many things that I don't mention here, and I admittedly let some things off.
So here goes:

Opening: Despite the fact that the armies did not meet by accident at Gettysburg, it is described as starting as a minor skirmish purely by accident.
1 min: The battle began along Knoxlyn Ridge 4 miles to the west of Gettysburg, but is said to have begun 1 mile west of Gettysburg (presumably at McPherson Ridge). By the time McPherson Ridge is the site of the main fighting, the battle had already gone on for about 2 hours along the 3 miles to the west. John Buford is never mentioned in the show, nor the fact that Federal cavalry began the battle with Harry Heth's division. The 'crossed rifles' emblem is seen on most Union headgear, an emblem not used by any in the Army until 1875, 10 years after the war was over.
8 min: Historian Garry Adelman states that the battle started purely by accident.
10 min: Ewell is said to have replaced Jackson upon Stonewall's death. Actually, Jackson's Corps was broken into two corps - one commanded by Ewell, the other by A.P. Hill (who is never mentioned in the show). Ewell is said to be Robert E. Lee's second-in-command. That was actually James Longstreet (which is mentioned only a couple times in passing during the show).
11 min: After the repulse from west and north of town, the Union soldiers are said to have retreated from Gettysburg. Actually, they retreat to and through the town, in which there is more fighting, before forming on the heights to the east and south of town. It is also stated the the Federals "have nowhere to go." It is implied that they are directionless with no one leading. You can probably guess that Winfield Hancock is likewise never mentioned in the show.
16 min: By 4:30, it is said the battle has gone on for 10 hours. Actually by 4:30, it has gone on for a little over 8 1/2 hours.
21 min: Confederates, surgeons etc. are seen carrying those cheap, inaccurate wooden lanterns that are sold to tourists and unsuspecting reenactors.
24 min: Union soldiers are seen digging what appear to be 6 foot-deep trenches on Cemetery Hill. Nothing of the kind took place.
27 min: In an attached commercial spot, Gettysburg citizen John Burns is said that while he fought with the Union Army, he "acted as a sharpshooter."
30 min: Federals, seen digging those 6 foot-deep trenches now on Culp's Hill, are said to be armed with a "new weapon" - the shovel. They are long-handled shovels. Troops on Culp's Hill actually constructed breastworks. Trenches you dig; breastworks you build. On Culp's Hill, Union troops actually piled logs, rocks and earth under the direction of George Green (gee, never mentioned in the show) into breastworks.
31 min: Ewell is said to have received orders at 9pm (sigh) to take both Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill (sigh and sigh). At least they mentioned the "if practical" disclaimer.
32 min: Adelman states that had the Rebs taken Culp's Hill, the Union Army would have had no choice but to "leave" the field. The battle would have been fought somewhere else. I'll leave this one open for the obvious debate.
33 min: The hollow base and grooves on the minie ball are said to give it stability in flight. With all the nice graphics showing the ammunition, wounds, and operation of artillery, it would have been more complete and accurate to say that actually the hollow base would expand at ignition, expanding the lead into the rifling grooves in the gun barrel, imparting spin to the bullet - hence the spiraling flight to make it straighter and longer. The hollow base in and of itself doesn't just give the bullet stability, which the graphic implied.
36 min: It is shown that by midnight on July 1, Meade had put the Federal line into its well-known "fish hook" formation from Little Round Top to Culp's Hill. In reality, Meade arrived on the battlefield that night sometime after midnight, and throughout the night and early morning got the line into a shorter formation that had not yet reached to Little Round Top.
38 min: It is described that in order for their bodies to be identified in case of death, soldiers would sew their names into their uniforms. "Dog tags" it is said, had not yet been invented. As to the latter, it was already actually pretty common for soldiers to purchase a commercially-made disc with their name, unit, hometown, etc. imprinted on it, which they carried on their person or wore around their neck. As to the former, soldiers also indeed sewed little tags on their clothing with their names - however, some genius on the production took it to mean that soldiers actually used thread and sewed their names - the actual letters of their names in thread - on their hats and such. Several soldiers in the scene are shown sewing those big names in thick white thread on their kepis, i.e. "J O H N S M I T H" etc. in big letters on their hats. In my 30 years of studying the Civil War I have never once seen that.
43 min: Barksdale, who is throughout the July 2 portion basically portrayed as carrying Longstreet's Assault all by himself, appears with jet-black hair and strange side whiskers. Barksdale actually had nearly shoulder-length snow white hair. This Barksdale, however, bears a striking resemblance to an older and fatter Judson Kilpatrick. That, or a reject from a Planet of the Apes fan convention.
44 min: It is stated that the Federal position cannot be scouted because "Lee's cavalry is missing." I think we all know the answer to this one. Cavalry, which is never portrayed at the battle in this show (although nearly 20,000 horsemen of both sides are present and fight several pitched battles at Gettysburg) is blamed for Longstreet's countermarch of July 2. Lee's cavalry commander, Jeb Stuart, actually only took just over half the cavalry with him on his ride. Lee still have several thousand cavalry with him at Gettysburg. And, it is said that Lee's cavalry is, on July 1, "12 miles to the south raiding supplies." Stuart and his riders are actually about 24 miles to the northeast, heading for Carlisle PA. And they're doing much more than raiding for supplies - I could of course go on for hours - but you get the idea. The show is happy to say several times that "Lee is blind on the battlefield."
45 min: It is stated that in order to issue orders to the front, Meade uses a "new innovation" - wig-wagging of flags. Apparently, that sure eliminates the need to use couriers I guess. And, the wig-wagging is based on "Morris Code." No, that's not a typo. Morris Code. I replayed the part several times to make sure the narrator actually said that. He did. It is stated that Meade had to use the flags because he was 3 miles away from the front during the battle. I guess he spent the battle at one of those cool diners nears the Maryland border I like to frequent on my visits to Gettysburg.
48 min: It is stated that Daniel Sickles, commander of the Union III Corps, was "recently acquitted of murder." The trial was three years prior to the battle. But it does sound more intriguing their way.
50 min: Barksdale, it is said, "sees that Sickles' mistake (in moving his men too far forward) has left the Union line vulnerable." There are many interesting comments throughout the show which show the evident prescience of so many commanders. Wait, an even better one is coming.
52 min: The "Rebel Yell" scene. I'm not sure where to begin. It's stated that each Confederate regiment "had its own distinctive version of the Rebel Yell." No, actually it was rather universal among the Confederate armies in the East and West. It was a distinctive "ki-i" yell that would curdle your blood. Several of the "Rebel Yells" shown in the show, however, sound more like soundtracks of Arab women hollering about the price of fruit going up in the town market. Lots of people have commented about this segment, and to say it's completely, utterly, and absolutely ridiculous is being kind.
58 min: It is Barksdale's Brigade alone that overwhelms Sickles' entire corps. This thread runs throughout the show - since only a few are highlighted on either side, the grand enormity of the battle is brought down to a much smaller scale. Anyone with little knowledge of Gettysburg watching this show would get no idea of the grandness of the scale of the actual battle.
60 min: It is stated that a Rebel cannon shot "severed" Sickles' leg. Actually, it crushed the lower bones of his leg, and it was amputated later.
62 min: Solid artillery shot is shown exploding when it hits the ground - as it is throughout the show. The graphic showing how artillery operates is actually pretty good - but the footage is almost entirely wrong. I've seen the comments of several artillery experts about this show, and let's just say it ain't complimentary...
63 min: A Union infantryman is seen aiming and shooting a Sharps carbine. Possible, yes, but so highly unlikely that it's out of place.
65 min: Rebs are seen shooting enemy that are wounded and lying on the ground. Sure, this happened of course, but it was necessary here? And what is the point?
75 min: "Medicine was in its infancy." Patently untrue, as the medical experts will tell you. Because the only thing talked about during the show is amputation, it's implied that surgeons new little else.
81 min: It is said that Pickett's Division is the "only fresh troops" that Lee has on July 3. Okay, tell that to Mahone, or.... well, sigh. Because the only Reb prisoners that Meade hasn't interviewed are Pickett's, it is said that "Meade suspects that Pickett will lead" any possible attack on July 3. Remember when I warned you that a better example of prescience was coming?
98 min: "100 Union cannon" are arrayed against Pickett's Charge. The artillerists who commanded the other 50 cannon in addition to those 100 must feel pretty left out right now.
100 min: Talking head Sean Rich (of "Pawn Stars" fame) shows up here. Oh, this guy is good. He tells everyone that it was very common to see artillerists' faces starting to bleed as they fired their guns. You see, Sean says, the percussion of the guns would cause the artillerists' internal organs to be ripped apart. My, that sounds uncomfortable. And if that didn't kill them, Sean proceeds to explain, their ear drums would explode and blood would start running out of their ears. So if artillerists all over a battlefield suddenly internally combusted into a bloody, gooey mess without explanation, I guess we now have our answer. Thanks, Sean. I need to work that little factoid into a future book somehow...
101 min: Apparently, as portrayed here, artillery crews stacked their cannon balls into neat little pyramids on the tops of black powder barrels beside their guns. Well, okay, I guess that would eliminate the need to bend over and pick them up off the ground, where those limber guys would just lay them willy-nilly.
102 min: Joseph Davis, who pretty much commands Pickett's Charge by himself, got his cowboy hat from one of those tourist shops in Gettysburg. Probably went shopping with Barksdale.
103 min: As shown throughout the production, cannon projectiles are simply rolled into the cannon barrels. No need to ram them in - just pick up a ball, and roll it down into the barrel. You know it hits the back of the barrel when you hear a distinctive "klunk." Simple.
112 min: I never knew that the fence along the Emmitsburg Road was held together with 10-inch lag bolts. They apparently save all that wasted effort cutting holes in posts for rail fences like on other battlefields.

General criticisms: These are legion. But suffice it to say that besides the historical narrative inaccuracies, the set locations in South Africa just don't pass for Gettysburg. The town looked more like it was a set from a 1950's B-Movie western. The terrain was horrible (since when was Gettysburg forested with vast amounts of pine and even the occasional sandy desert here and there?). And there was absolutely no mention of the cavalry fighting, nor many important commanders - Buford, any Federal infantry corps commander other than Sickles, A.P. Hill, or even Chamberlain (thought many admit that was refreshing). Officers all rode heavy draft horses (maybe that's all that's available in South Africa), and much of the equipment was non-historical. And because so much of the production was on so small a scale, and even narrated in that vein, no one would get the idea that Gettysburg was actually the enormous conflict that it was and ranged over so much territory.

Okay, so that's the Bad and the Ugly, how about the Good? I'm not ashamed to say I was captivated by the actual production value - the dramatics, the woundings, etc. - as was my wife during the few minutes she watched. I thought most of the acting was actually superior and engrossing. The fellow who portrayed Amos Humiston (that's Amos, not Lewis as he was once called) nearly brought me to tears. The only unsettling portrayal, I thought, was Joseph Davis - during Pickett's Charge he seemed to be a Christ-like figure, standing in the midst of evil mayhem. Perhaps that wasn't all that unintentional. Many of the woundings made me wince - I could almost feel them and they seemed quite real (more real had they not shown the smoke coming from the squibs and the Hollywood-esque big spurts of blood coming from many of them).

So my general impression? For accuracy, an F. Teaching the historiography of the battle? If there's an F-, this gets it. But History is trying. This is an exciting week for us Civil War nuts, with promising Civil War themed American Pickers (with my good buddy Erik Dorr and his Gettysburg Museum of History) and Pawn Stars (another of my favorite shows). The Sesquicentennial is a good time to be an American Civil War nerd.

And if this show gets people interested, then that's fabulous. It's up to those of us who know better to help people learn the truth. Maybe this will spur more interest in reenacting, and even help living historians to affirm their correct impressions. And if it brings more related programming, then I'm all for it - but let's hope that future shows are made under the close direction of folks who are recognized specialists in their field. The commentators on this show were not able to view the rest of the production, hence they can't be held responsible for how lousy it turned out to be. Hopefully it doesn't reflect on them, as it shouldn't. They all know better, and they wouldn't have allowed all of the inaccuracy to have been both filmed and narrated had they had the ability to direct it.

Kudos to History for keeping interest alive. Yes, general public understanding of the Battle of Gettysburg has just been set back a few decades, but that's happened before. It leaves the door open for all of us to right the wrongs - to discuss it, debate it, write about it, and read about it. And even to film it all over - better is coming, I assure you. Patience.