Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mike Phipps in Iraq on GettysburgDaily

Folks, perhaps as part of your Thanksgiving events, please take a moment to check out the post from Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Mike Phipps on GettysburgDaily. Mike is a friend of mine who is on his fourth deployment, and was badly wounded previously. The last time I saw Mike was a couple years ago in the Mine Saloon in Gettysburg between (if I recall correctly) his second and third deployments. He is a member of the 1st Cavalry Division, the direct linear descendant of Gen. John Buford's division that was organized in 1863. Today, as I work on the roasting turkey, I'm wearing my 1st Cavalry Division t-shirt in Mike's honor.

The post from Mike will remind you of what these folks are doing for us "over there" and all that they are going through. It jerks you back to reality when you place it in context of all the political football that politicians play with our soldiers and their present situation. It makes you want to smack every politico right in the mouth and tell them to wake up, make the right decisions, give them all they need and accept nothing less than victory. Well, at least it makes me want to do that.

Anyway, please check out the post. Mike, ol' friend, kick the asses that need kicking and come back safe.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving thanks

I wish all of my readers a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Everyone uses that phrase a lot this time of year, and I recently began wondering how much we think about the feelings and emotions behind the words.

There are, of course (and unfortunately) many folks nowadays who feel they have little to give thanks for. Many individuals and families have been hurt by the downturn in the economy. Others worry about their husbands, daddies, sons, even wives, sisters, and daughters etc. who are serving in danger overseas. For so many of these folks, gorging on turkey and sweet potatoes is the last thing on their minds. They just want to be able to keep their home and see their loved ones safe and sound again.

It can be tough. We go through highs and lows, happiness, sadness, and anxiety. For me, this is the first holiday season since my mom passed on in February. My beautiful and loving wife Karen is just starting to decorate our home for Christmas. Mom just loved seeing all the decorations each year - especially that daggone 14-ft Christmas tree in the living room that takes two weeks to put up and decorate with the 1600 ornaments. I honestly think that she kept Dad from taking her down to Florida each winter until late December just so she could hang around to see the tree in all its glory. Mom is one of the primary reasons we put it up each year, and now my eyes are beginning to well up just thinking about that.

That's all changed, of course. A couple weeks ago, I even allowed my emotions about it slip a bit. Karen asked about the details of putting up the decorations this year, and without even thinking I just responded "I really don't give a sh--." I hardly remember saying that, as if my mouth had a mind of it's own. But I immediately realized what I said, and I saw how my unthinking foolishness hurt her - I saw it in her eyes. Of course I cared. Of course it matters. And of course I want to see the decorations and the tree. I let the fact that since mom won't see it this year get ahead of what I truly want. I immediately told Karen that I didn't mean it, and to her credit she knew what I really meant. She understands how important it was to us for mom to see the decorations each year.

So we're doing it, just like we will every year until we're unable to. It's a lot of work putting up that blessed tree, and I'm sure there will come a day when physically we just can't do it anymore. I always joke to Karen that one day I'll just shrink wrap it, put it up in the back yard after the holidays, then just bring it in each year after Thanksgiving... maybe I'm not joking after all...

Things certainly have changed now, due to the loss of my mom. Since Karen and I have been together nearly 10 years, we've gone to my parents' for Thanksgiving. Then we spend Christmas at her parents' in upstate New York. But Dad understandably went to Florida a couple weeks ago - why be in an empty house for much of the holidays here? - where he can spend them with friends down there. I don't blame him, and I'd do the same if I were him. But it means that this year, for the first time, Karen and I will be alone for Thanksgiving. Just the two of us. Her daughter Ashley is spending the day with her grandparents in New York. Karen and I are still going all out, though - I'm getting up early tomorrow to cook the turkey (Dad's recipe), the sweet potatoes (Mom's recipe) and all the trimmings. We're doing it for each other. We'll be surrounded by a half-decorated house, with space made for that wretched big tree that's about to go up. But we'll make good headway over the long weekend.

Yes, times are challenging. My recent thoughts pale in comparison, of course, to the difficulties that many are going through. Many are dreading the possibility of losing their homes, or how to feed their families. How to find a job. Then there are others who have it good, maybe even better in this environment. Some folks have so much money and resources that temporary downturns hardly affect them at all. For them maybe there'll be one less Rolex under the tree. Or maybe not. Lucky them, I guess.

It sounds overly simple, but these are just those times when we need to be there for each other. Each other is all we have, after all. Politicians won't bail us out, and new legislation is hardly ever designed to make all of our lives peachy. Those of us who have a little extra this season might be able to reach down and give a little more. And many gifts cost nothing - tell your kids you're proud of them, your spouse you love him/her, or that the turkey this year was better than ever.

It'll just be Karen and I tomorrow, but that's okay. What surrounds me is the love of family and friends. The comments I heard this past weekend in Gettysburg about my books - the father who pointed out how much his 6 year-old son just loved going around the battlefield looking for the rock carvings we have in the Gettysburg Guide. My friends who help me with my work, and even those who criticize - I learn a great deal from what they have to say. All of this and more fills my head and my heart this time of year.

It's going to be a full house tomorrow indeed. Standing room only, in fact. I think I'll enjoy the crowd.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Weekend of reflection

Since I got a late start, I arrived in Gettysburg right around 9pm on Friday night. Buddy Jim Glessner, co-owner of Ten Roads Publishing and former manager of the American History Store in town, had set up a book signing at O'Rorkes on Steinwehr Avenue for Friday and Saturday nights. I went right to the spot, where quite a number of reenactors and patrons were happily imbibing. I found Jim as well as Steve Stanley and his fiance Kyrstie, and we went upstairs to the signing room. There, Bill Frassanito was signing copies of his newly reprinted (by Ten Roads) Gettysburg Bicentennial Album. Jim Hessler had copies of his Sickles at Gettysburg terrific tome. John David "J.D." Hoptak, Antietam ranger, was signing copies of his new book "Our Boys Did Nobly." My friend Sal Prezioso, the owner of Gen. Collis' home Red Patch, had some friends in from Michigan who wanted copies of our The Complete Gettysburg Guide. Steve and I signed a couple copies, and spent an enjoyable couple of hours talking with everyone.

Close to 11pm, we packed up and headed for the Reliance Mine Saloon, where we had books available and relaxed with friends. Duane Siskey, fiance Lori Krick, Steve "Basecat" Basic, Linda Sanson, Raequel Fabio, Jim Lamason and wife Deb - lots of folks to catch up with.

I got back to host Dave and Carol Moore's house pretty late (they were already in the sack), and was up by 7:30 am. Steve and I had a signing at the Supply Wagon Sutler on Baltimore Street at 10am, then we went to the Visitor Center for our 12noon to 3pm signing there. My only regret about the timing was that I had to miss the parade for the first time in years. At the VC we signed with Bob Trout, a good friend who has written many great books on Jeb Stuart subjects. I had a nice long talk with him about our future plans. Rob Nixon was also there, and I picked up a copy of his excellent Gettysburg Monuments book. Just on his way out was Bill Styple, but fortunately I got a copy of his "Tell Me of Lincoln" new book, which is an excellent read and source. Fellow Savas Beatie author Brad Gottfried was there, and we had a chance to discuss Savas' Gettysburg Encyclopedia project. Brad and Ted Savas are the general editors, and I'm the editor of the cavalry section. I have to finish up my work on it soon, as Savas wishes to get the book to print soon. Jared Frederick was also there with his books, featuring his impressive artwork. Besides the many folks who bought the Gettysburg Guide, several folks also brought in their copies for Steve and I to endorse. It was nice, and appreciated, that so many readers tracked us down there to have their books signed.

I always take Dave and Carol out to dinner during my visits to show my appreciation for allowing me to stay in their beautiful home, so the three of us joined Steve Stanley at Brothers Pizza on the Fairfield Road. I got a big plate of stuffed shells, which was terrific. Brothers is Dave's favorite place, and it's always fun conversing with the owner in my lousy, broken Italian.
After dinner, we set off for the Luminaria in the National Cemetery. I always love that. This year it was beautiful - nearly 4000 candles throughout the grounds, with folks reading the names of the Gettysburg dead. Reenactor honor guards stand watch at various spots. The sky was very dark, so you could barely see to walk throughout the cemetery. There was just a chill in the air, and it made for a very contemplative time. I always do a lot of reflection during the Luminaria, and in fact I commented to Steve that "this is why we do what we do." And it's very true. Every time I work on an article or book, or do research, or give a talk or tour, it's all about honoring the folks who served and especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Some were brave, and some not so brave - but a grave stone doesn't distinguish the two.

We walked the entirety of the cemetery, Steve took some really nice pictures, and we both determined to finally one day get to the Antietam Luminaria - Steve needs to get pictures of it anyway for our next joint project, The Complete Maryland Campaign Guide.

By 8pm we were back at O'Rorkes for another signing, then off to the Mine again at 10pm. Duane and Lori brought their homemade flavored popcorns, and I think I ate about 10 pounds of it. Once again it was a great couple hours just being in the company of folks you love and who love you. Seeing friends in Gettysburg is just as important - if not more so - than anything else during my trips.

Sunday we had a signing at the Gettysburg Gift Center starting at 10am, so after breakfast we set up shop there, where we were with Jeff Shaara. He's pretty popular, so you always get overshadowed whenever you're with him - but that's okay. I've had a number of events and signings with Jeff, and we had a chance to talk quite a bit. He has certainly carried on his father's legacy and I'm impressed at his ability to promote the story of the common soldier in his works.

A big group of us had lunch together at Gettysburg Eddie's, then Steve and I had our final signing at the American History Store. The owner even brought us chocolate chip cookies! A few folks bought the Guide as well as my other books, and again I was impressed that several people brought in their books to have us sign them. Once fellow brought in a Guide that had a ragged dust cover, and obviously had seen a lot of mileage on the field. I told him I was glad to see that - that's what it's for! Most folks, I have found, remove the cover (many, many times it has been brought to us that way) but this guy saw his book as a complete workhorse and obviously had put it to heavy use. Before I left, I picked up my copy of friend Ed Longacre's new book that he had signed for me and left there from his signing on Saturday. We finished at 3pm, then Steve, Kyrstie, and friend Leigh Ann Daugherty and I went to Erik Dorr's new Gettysburg Museum of History on Baltimore Avenue. What an awesome place. Besides the Gettysburg and Civil War artifacts in the front room, this guy has an amazing collection of Presidential stuff - especially that of John F. Kennedy. Erik has JFK's secretary Evelyn Lincoln's entire collection. Hundreds of JFK's personal items are there, but I was especially struck by the piece of the leather seat, spattered with blood, from the back seat of Kennedy's Lincoln from the assassination. Folks, this has to be a spot you visit on your next trip to Gettysburg. You'll be impressed, and next time I have to spend a lot more than just the hour I could set aside for it.

It was nearly 9pm by the time I got home, and I guess I hadn't realized how much I had packed into the previous 48 hours. But it sure flew quickly, as it always does. The combination of spending time with close friends (many of whom I won't see again until spring), meeting and talking with fans of the books, and taking in the atmosphere of the Luminaria will keep me charged until my next visit. I'm actually hoping to make it back in January for the Gettysburg Civil War Roundtable's meeting, when Steve and I plan to talk about the Guide. As long as the roads aren't bad I should be able to make the trip.

Thanks again to everyone who paid us such nice compliments about the Guide, and for taking the time and effort to hook up with us at one of the events. And my awe and appreciation to those who earned a candle in the crisp Pennsylvania air Saturday night.

For each and every one of you, it's why I do what I do.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gettysburg - Remembrance weekend visit

This Friday evening, November 20, I'll be heading to Gettysburg for the weekend commemorating Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The actual Remembrance Day events take place on the 19th, the day Lincoln actually delivered the speech. But on Saturday the parade, which features many groups - particularly thousands of reenactors - draws a large crowd. There are always many "rededications" at monuments around the field which are always interesting to attend. My favorite event, however, is the beautiful and ponderous luminaria which takes place in the National Cemetery on Saturday night. Seeing those approximately 3,500 candles in the cemetery, while volunteers read off the names of interred Gettysburg dead for a couple hours, makes for a very beautiful ceremony. If you've never been there, I encourage you to see it if at all possible.

Along with cartographer Steve Stanley, I'll be participating in several books signings around town over the weekend. If any friends are able to attend, we'd enjoy your company. I'll have copies of all three of my books available.

Friday, Nov. 20 - 9pm to approximately 10:30pm "Book and a Beer" signing at O'Rorkes on Steinwehr Avenue. About 10:30pm or so, we will be going to the Reliance Mine Saloon down the street for another signing there.

Saturday, Nov. 21 - 10am to 11:30am Signing at the Wagon Wheel Sutler, 40 Baltimore Street.

Saturday, Nov. 21 - 12noon to 3pm Signing at the GNMP Museum and Visitor Center. Folks such as Jeff Shaara and filmaker Ken Burns will also be at the tables.

Saturday, Nov. 21 - 9pm to ? "Book and a Beer Round Two" signing at O'Rorkes on Steinwehr Avenue.

Sunday, Nov. 22 - 10am to 12noon Signing at the Gettysburg Gift Center (former Wax Museum) on Steinwehr Avenue.

Sunday, Nov. 22 - 1pm to 3pm Signing at the American History Store at the corner of Baltimore and Steinwehr avenues.

I'll try to post while I'm in town. Looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Battle of Fairfield Tour Pt. 2 on GettysburgDaily

If you're interested, the second installment of my mini-tour of the July 2, 1863 cavalry battle at Fairfield Pa is now up on GettysburgDaily. The third and final part will likely be on the site in a week or two. The tour is based on our tour in The Complete Gettysburg Guide.

Speaking of which, buddy Mike Rinehart has just put up his review of the book on his blog. It's very flattering, and I was quite speechless when I read it. Mike has such wonderful things to say about the book and Steve Stanley's maps and book design, and we very much appreciate everything that Mike pointed out. Mike, like so many reviewers, points out the uniqueness of our tour of the battlefield rock carvings, and it's nifty that so many folks like and appreciate it. Thank you Mike!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Podcast available of PCN-TV interview

The podcast of my interview on PCN-TV is now available. Click HERE, then choose "PA Books" in the button list on the right side of the page. You'll see "The Complete Gettysburg Guide" as an option to play.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

PCN-TV Interview Tonight (Sunday, Nov. 1 at 9 pm)

Just a reminder that my hour-long interview on the "PA Books" Show of the PCN-TV network will air tonite at 9:00 pm. There are additional airings throughout the week. Those of you who are Pennsylvania or area subscribers will get it on your local channel, and anyone can stream the podcast of the interview on the channel's website (click on the PA Books section toward the bottom of the webpage) beginning tonight.
There are nearly four million subscribers to the channel, so I hope I don't get nervous - oh, wait, we taped it nearly two months ago :)
I hope you enjoy it. I really enjoyed talking about the new book, and Gettysburg and the Civil War in general. It was a lot of fun doing the interview and I hope it comes off alright.
UPDATE: The podcast of the interview should be available on the website beginning Tuesday or Wednesday.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The new "library"

First, let me say that I'm glad the "Latschar mess" is now behind Gettysburg and the park. That entire sordid affair kept tongues wagging and the blogs and emails flying fast and furious. Former GNMP Superintendant John Latschar's detractors had a field day with the entire episode and subsequent demotion, and his supporters tried to keep up with the fray, often to no avail. Personally, I like many are thankful for the General Management Plan that has helped to return the field to 1863 views, but I (also like many) felt much distaste for the way some things have turned out. Not everyone can be happy all the time, but fortunately the Latschar furor has died down and efforts can once again be turned toward what is best for the park, for history, and the folks.

I mentioned a while back that we recently remodeled one of the spare bedrooms in the house to turn it into a new home library for my research and writing. It was great to be able to start on the room a month ago following my August illness. The bedroom was the only room untouched during the 1990 remodel and expansion of the home, so the 1969-era paneling, ceiling tile, and lovely (not!) green carpeting still remained in the space. I tore all of that out, we updated the wiring, and installed new drywall. Last weekend we painted the walls a pretty, and Victorian-style, "antique red." It looks really nice with the oak trim. Very library-like. Yesterday Karen and I picked out a light-colored barbour carpeting which will be installed next week. And last night I started putting up the bookshelves. The one set of shelves on one wall held nearly 1,000 of the books, so there's something like 2,500 or so to find a home (!). This weekend I hope to get the rest of the shelves installed, have all the books in place - it's fun, I'll admit, reorganizing all the books to make them easier to find - and then the custom-made chestnut desk will be the last thing to install.

I do think, however, that this winter I'll come up with my own type of Dewey-decimal system to organize the books as a finding aide. It's annoying staring at the shelves for a half hour trying to locate a book that you knew "was right here, darnit!" I'll computerize it so I can do a quick search. I have to decide how to categorize it so it makes sense, but I'll come up with something. And now that I have the space I will be able to organize those thousands of papers, documents, manuscripts, letters, and copies of "stuff" that I always have such a hard time locating. I've spent weeks looking for one stupid sheet of paper that eludes me. That's inefficient and aggravating, but hopefully that will get cured as well.

I'm getting there, slow but sure. Boxes are getting unpacked, shelves are getting filled - and finally I'll be able to get back to serious writing very soon.

Just as soon as I find that stupid piece of paper on which I wrote my future projects... now what did I do with it??

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First installment of Fairfield battle tour on GettysburgDaily

For those interested, the first installment of the tour of the July 3, 1863 Battle of Fairfield by Steve Stanley and me is now on the GettysburgDaily website. It is based on the tour in our book The Complete Gettysburg Guide. The second installment will probably be on the site in a few days.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tonight in Gettysburg

Right now I'm sitting in Steve Stanley's living room in Gettysburg. I arrived about 6:30 pm after a quite rainy (and road construction filled) four-hour drive. Steve and I, his fiance Krystie and friend Leigh Ann met at the Mayflower Chinese Buffet - one of my favorite haunts - for dinner. Afterwards, we drove to the American History Store on Steinwehr Avenue for a book signing in conjunction with the Military History Online fall muster. The signing was from 8-10 pm. Bill Frassanito was there, along with John Hoptak, Jim Hessler, Tim Smith, and Don Ernsberger. Steve and I signed several copies of The Complete Gettysburg Guide, most of them actually brought by folks to have signed. Several folks also bought copies of my first two books. It was a nice time, especially meeting some MHO folks that I hadn't seen in a few years.

We need to get up about 4:30 am tomorrow in order to make the five-hour drive to Williamsburg, Virginia for the Military History Weekend show. The book signing there begins at 12 noon, and we need about a half hour or so to get set up. It will be an early start to a long day tomorrow, so good night everyone!

To Gettysburg, then Williamsburg

In just a few minutes I'll be on the road to Gettysburg, where tonight Steve Stanley and I will be part of a book signing at the American History Store (1 Steinwehr Ave) from 8:00-10:00 pm. Bill Frassanito, Jim Hessler and others will also be there. It promises to be a fun time and I look forward to seeing all the folks again.

Tomorrow morning, Steve and I will leave early for Williamsburg, Virginia, to be part of the Military History Weekend that I posted about previously. Lots of distributors, publishers, authors, wargamers, and veterans will be there, and it's expected to be very well attended. Saturday night we've been invited to a private dinner with one of the Band of Brothers, Col. Eddie Shames - I'm very much looking forward to meeting him. The entire show looks to be very interesting, and I know I'll also be spending lots of time walking around and looking at all the exhibits and historical displays. I'll post from the road as I get time.

Monday, October 12, 2009

2nd segment of Hunterstown Battle on GettysburgDaily

For those interested, the second and final segment of our tour of the July 2, 1863 Battle of Hunterstown is now on GettysburgDaily. Up soon will be our tour of the July 3 Battle of Fairfield, which I suspect will also be in two parts. Both tours are based on our book The Complete Gettysburg Guide.

On a separate issue, the Amazon webpage for the book currently shows that Amazon is temporarily not offering the book for sale. Apparently, an Amazon customer complained when the two copies he ordered were both received slightly damaged. It appears that when Amazon faces such an issue, they shut down the availability of the book until the issue is resolved. Our publisher has spoken with our distributor, and hopefully the issue will be fixed very soon. We don't know if the books were damaged at the distributor or Amazon (we may never know) but once they get the problem figured out (replacing the books, etc.) Amazon will be offering it directly from them again.

UPDATE (Wednesday): After working with the Amazon folks, our publisher and distributor have gotten the situation straightened out, and the book is now again available on Amazon. Thanks to everyone who worked to fix it!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Military History Weekend, Williamsburg VA, Oct. 17-18

Co-author Steve Stanley and I will be representing our publisher Savas Beatie at the Military History Weekend Show, to be held in Williamsburg the weekend of October 17. Show headquarters is the beautiful Hospitality House on Richmond Road. Events actually run from Friday through Monday (see the event schedule), but Steve and I will be there from noon on Saturday until late Sunday afternoon. We will be signing copies of The Complete Gettysburg Guide, and we will also have my first two books available (see them here and here).

I'm really excited to meet Col. Eddie Shames of the 101st Airborne, a hero of WWII and the famous Band of Brothers. Col. Shames will be signing copies of Osprey's Tonight We Die As Men (he wrote the Forward for the book), and I look forward to thanking the colonel for his service and to be one of millions who have let him know that he is a true hero.

If you'll be in the Williamsburg area that weekend, please come to see us! There are a lot of very interesting events going on throughout the weekend - militaria displays, book vendors, authors, sculptors, publisher tables, tours of the Virginia War Museum, author/historian talks, and a whole lot more. Hope to see some friends there.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pete Jorgensen passes

Those who are fans of The Civil War News and The Artilleryman Magazine (myself on both counts) know of C. Peter Jorgensen - author, editor, and preservationist. I just received the following:

C. Peter Jorgensen of Tunbridge, Vermont died Sept. 25 of cancer at age 68. His funeral will be Saturday, Oct. 3, at noon at the Tunbridge Church followed by a burial service and Pete's Party, both at his Monarch Hill Road home, to which all are invited. The committal ceremony will be reminiscent of the annual Tunbridge Memorial Day service in which Jorgensen participated until this year. It will include music by the Constitution Brass Quintet, firing squad, the release of white doves and cannons fired by the Vermont Civil War Hemlocks. Buffet lunch will be served after which friends will be invited to share reminiscences.

A complete obituary will follow, and any e-version of it I will try to post here. Prayers and good thoughts go out to Kay Jorgensen and her family.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Battle of Hunterstown tour, Part 1, now on "Gettysburg Daily"

Steve Stanley and J.D. Petruzzi at the new historical
wayside on the battle-era John Tate Farm, Hunterstown Pa.
In the old road trace of the road leading from the old town square
(grassy area in the background) to the York Pike and Gettysburg.

Webmaster Bobby Housch has put up Part 1 of the tour of the July 2, 1863 cavalry battle at Hunterstown by me and Steve Stanley on Gettysburg Daily. We begin with the opening skirmish a couple hundred yards east of what was the town square, then proceed to the square, and finally we show the old road trace of the road to the York Pike that ran through the John Tate farm (which was used by the troopers as they galloped to what would become the main battlefield on the Felty and Gilbert farms).

Please check it out - we hope you like it! Part 2 (on the main field of the battle) is to follow, then will be our tour of the July 3 battle at Fairfield (likely also in two parts). Detailed narratives and tours of the two battles are included in our book The Complete Gettysburg Guide.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Photo Contest Winner!

Tyler Fasnacht on Big Round Top with
The Complete Gettysburg Guide

Young Mr. Tyler Fasnacht is the winner of our Complete Gettysburg Guide Photo Contest! In July, we started a contest for folks to send us pictures of them holding the book, or with the book in various places such as the battlefield, etc. Tyler sent us a photo of him holding the book on the summit of Big Round Top. ALL of the photos were simply fantastic - many of them very creative and taking much effort to create. But we feel that anyone who is willing to lug the book all the way to the top of Big Round Top deserves a prize!

Tyler has his choice of a Special Signed and Numbered Limited Gettysburg Edition of the book, or a choice of any other Savas Beatie title on us! Congratulations to Tyler, and congratulations and thank you to everyone who participated.

Here are more submissions:
Craig "The Marker Hunter" Swain

Ron Linfonte (center) and his two sons, along with
a Harpers Ferry Springfield musket given to his grandfather
in the 1920's by a Civil War veteran

Rae-Ann McDonald, in full cavalry uniform, with her
steed Maybee, both enjoying The Guide

Now you can see why it was so difficult to choose a winner! More photos to come...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

...Oh my! Part 2

In a short time, we were in historic Shepherdstown, a place I haven't visited in a few years. While we went through town, the Shepherd University football team was playing in the stadium to a large crowd. After a while we reached Harpers Ferry. I love it there. I brought my wife there shortly after we were married, and showed her around. I even walked her out to the Jefferson Rock, quite a hike up the mountain.

The four of us were starved (yes, I know, that shocks folks who know me well), and one of my favorite places is a BBQ restaurant located near the train depot, a restaurant that is actually in a train car. Steve and Kyrstie have been there before, too, so we sat down to a great meal of Lt. Louis ribs slathered in sauce. I finished my rack, but I don't think Steve got all the way through his. Kyrstie only ate half of hers. Leigh Ann had a pulled pork sammich, and when through we we all satisfied. I'm grateful to our waitress, Brooke, who steered me away from my initial ordering of the fruit punch as my beverage. "Tastes like cough medicine," she admitted, out of earshot of the owner behind the grill. I got the root beer instead, seemingly a wise decision. I gave her an extra tip for the advice.

We then walked down to the Harpers Ferry bookstore, which has a great selection of books - Civil War, general history, local history, etc. It never fails that I melt the credit card in there, and this day was no exception. I found a recent book on the history off the CW in Loudoun County I've been meaning to get, as well as a new book on Chew's artillery battery in the war that will prove to be a great resource for Jeb Stuart's artillery. I found a quote from one of Chew's gunners in there about the July 3, 1863 battle of Fairfield outside Gettysburg that I wished I'd had a while back. A couple of my books were there as well, always good to see. Leigh Ann, a school teacher, bought the book of Lincoln's Quotations for use in her classroom. It is a newer paperback reprint. When I saw it, I told her that I actually have a hardcover first edition of it and that it's a good book and I recommended it.

We needed to get back to Gettysburg, so we got back on the road and arrived back in town about 7:00 pm. That gave us enough time to freshen up, let me make a few phone calls, and head out for the evening. I met Steve and the girls at Kilwin's on Steinwehr Avenue for ice cream. My hot fudge sundae hit the spot!

We then walked down to Jim Glessner's American History Store. Jim had only two copies of the Gettysburg Guide left, and Steve promised to drop some more off later. We shot the bull for a while, then we drove to the Mine. Before meeting up with the gang, I had stopped at Sal Prezioso's house, "Red Patch." Sal had asked me to stop, and then I convinced him to come out and play - to come to the Mine for a few drinks. After telling his lovely wife Gail that I was going to booze up her husband and corrupt him, he followed me to the Mine - he admitted that in all the years he's lived in Gettysburg, the Mine was the one spot he's never visited. It was my duty, of course, to correct that omission.

We had a terrific time that night, talking with friends including Jim Lamason and his wife Bev. Sal got initiated in the atmosphere of the Mine, and regaled us with tales of his many overseas travels. I think he had a good time that night, and hopefully Gail will let him out once or twice again.

I was scheduled to tape the tours of Hunterstown and Fairfield on Sunday at 2:00 pm. The tapings for Gettysburg Daily had been set up by my publicist at Savas Beatie, based on the tours of the cavalry battles there in the Gettysburg Guide. I had some time Sunday morning to run out to Hunterstown and make sure that it was okay to be on the property of the historic John Tate farm, owned by Hunterstown Historical Society founders Roger and Laurie Harding. When I arrived, Roger was painting the fence in front of the house, and Laurie also came out to greet me. When I described the taping, they agreed that it would be great PR for the battlefield. I would be able to take Bobby onto their property and show the old road trace that led out of the old town square, on which the Confederate and Federal cavalry galloped to what became the main battlefield on the Felty and Gilbert farms. Laurie also told me that she had a pen and ink engraving showing the old road trace as it went between the Tate barn and blacksmith shop - she promised to have a copy of it for me that afternoon.

I had lunch back in Gettysburg, and then went back to Hunterstown to meet Bobby and Steve. Steve had printed large versions of the pertinent battle maps from the book for us to show on camera. Bobby arrived at 2:00 pm, and we drove east to the area of the wartime Jesse and Jane Ann McCreary home, in front of which the opening skirmish of the battle took place. Steve and I got ready, and Bobby turned on the camera. Well, he tried to, that is. It wouldn't work for him. He changed tapes, changed batteries, but nothing worked. Uh oh.

After Bobby tried everything but just couldn't get it working, he pulled out a smaller digital camera that could take both pictures and video. We now would really have to keep each vignette short. I described the opening skirmish, the we went to the old town square to talk there. Steve held up one of his maps and we showed how the area looked in 1863. We then went to the old road trace through the Hardings' farm, and on their fence was an envelope for us from Roger and Laurie. Inside were two very nice copies of the pen and ink drawing of the old road - really neat! We did a taping there, then several tapings on the main battlefield. Several times Steve held up his maps for us to point out the locations and 1863 topography.

Next was Fairfield. Bobby stopped in town to get another disc for his camera, and we made the 10-minute drive to Fairfield. Again we taped at the area of the opening actions, then went to the main battlefield. I showed the old road trace of what is now Knox Road, and made a point to emphasize that the very tough fences along the roads and in the fields really made it difficult for mounted operations. I then finished up with a little talk about the ramifications of the July 3 battle there, which showed how exposed Lee's rear was, and the unexploited opportunity to choke off one of Lee's main lines of retreat - the Fairfield Gap/Monterey Gap corridor.

Since it was already 5:00 pm, there wasn't any time to do South Cavalry Field as planned. Also, I needed to get on the road for the nearly four-hour drive. We made a plan to tape SCF on March 7 next year.

Bobby is really a terrific guy. He's very personable, easy to work with, and I really appreciated the opportunity for the additional exposure for the tours in our book. Folks in over 120 countries view and enjoy his website. Doing the tapings was a great deal of fun. While at Fairfield, one of the 6th US Cavalry's squadron commanders slipped my mind for a moment, and I went blank. We had to stop the tape, and we had a good laugh over it. Bobby doesn't expect folks to be infallible experts, just to be well-informed, passionate about the events, and to have fun with it all. We certainly did.

Back at Steve's apartment, we signed a bunch of copies of the Guide - second editions since the first edition was pretty much gone shortly after release. The third edition has just been ordered, which is really very humbling. I brought back a couple cases which needed to get shipped out for orders.

There was a lot of construction on the freeways, so it took me all of the four hours to get home Sunday night. I was beat, but was able to look back on a very nice weekend in Adams County, Antietam, and Harpers Ferry. After being sick for nearly an entire month, and pretty much chained to the house and office since, it was fabulous getting out for a couple days and having a great time with great friends. I'm hoping to get back once or twice before Remembrance Day in November.

Bobby tells me the Hunterstown tour segment should be on his site this Friday - I'll post a link here once it appears.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gettysburg...Antietam...Harpers Ferry...Hunterstown...Fairfield...Oh my!

Last night I returned from a very busy, yet enjoyable trip to Gettysburg and nearby environs. The trip was mainly to give taped tours of the battle of Hunterstown and Fairfield for Bobby Housch for his GettysburgDaily website, but also for Steve Stanley and I to do some legwork for our next book, The Complete Antietam Guide. I couldn't leave until after work Friday, so I arrived in Gettysburg about 10 pm.

Buddy Jim Glessner, who manages The American History Store on Steinwehr Avenue, called me while I was on the road to let me know that two Licensed Battlefield Guides had heard I was coming to town and wanted to meet me. They were waiting for me at O'Rorkes. When I arrived, we had a very nice discussion about The Complete Gettysburg Guide, and they told Steve and I how much the guides enjoy the book. We were very honored by that - I have so much respect for the guides and park rangers, and the fact that they enjoy and recommend the book means a great deal to us. Everyone especially enjoys the tours of the cavalry actions - so little is generally known about them, and the book has given many folks much detail and so much to see. And the tours of the cemeteries and rock carvings has a lot of people talking - those are ones I keep hearing that folks really enjoy.

After an hour or so, Steve and I, along with Steve's fiance Kyrstie and Jim headed to The Mine for a few beers and some pizza. I'd eaten dinner but was starved by that time, so I had Dominos deliver to the bar. We had a nice time for a couple hours before I headed to my usual bunkhouse, Dave and Carol Moore's home on Herr's Ridge.

Steve and I had Saturday free, so we planned a trip to Antietam. After breakfast, Steve, Kyrstie, their friend Leigh Ann and I hopped in my truck and headed for Gettysburg's sister field. We got to the Visitor Center about 10:30, where we found ranger John Hoptak holding court behind the counter. John's a cool guy, besides being an Antietam expert. He always has a big smile on his face, and it was great to see him again. John told us about the new walking tours at the newly-acquired Roulette Farm, and we determined to walk the Federal Attack on the Sunken Road there. I asked if ranger Mannie Gentile was going to be around, and John told us that after his morning tour, he'd be in the VC that afternoon. We decided to come back later so we could see Mannie.

Steve also wanted to get some more pictures for the book, so we first headed to the Dunker Church. I enjoy going in there, and we sat in one of the pews for a while. A couple of Confederate living historians came in, and we talked for a while. Next was the Maryland monument, and Steve got some nice shots there. We then drove to the Mumma Cemetery, then the Roulette Farm. I hadn't been able to walk it since the NPS acquired it, so the four of us walked down the dirt road leading to the house and outbuildings. We crawled all over the place and I enjoyed seeing the house up close for the first time. Something I found in one of the sheds surprised me, though. Inside was a complete wooden original artillery limber and ammunition chest. It looks like it had been there since the battle. On the ground behind it was a rusty 3-inch Ordnance barrel. I wondered aloud how long it had been there and how it got there. I wondered if perhaps it was found on the field after the battle (one of the wheels was in pretty bad shape) and maybe Roulette had snatched it. Until the NPS got the property, maybe no one but the owners knew it was even there. I determined to ask someone when we got back to the VC, but of course I completely forgot later.

We then hiked the Federal Attack trail to the Sunken Road, which was a real eye opener. Coming up to the very high ridge overlooking the road, it made an impact on me how those Federal flags appearing over the ridge must have looked to the Rebs below. As always, walking the ground teaches everything - nothing replaces it. And the view of the Sunken Road below was one that I took in for quite some time, enjoying the educational and different view.

The girls convinced Steve and I that we just had to walk up the observation tower - easy for them, they're both in their 20's and Steve's and my knees have seen better days. The girls walked the Sunken Road to the tower, and Steve and I knew that in order to store what would be much-needed reserve energy, we drove the truck to the tower. By the time we got there, the ladies were already at the top. Youth is wasted on the young! Steve and I groaned... er... climbed our way to the top, and of course the view was spectacular as always. The sky was rich blue, and there wasn't a single cloud. It was a fabulous day. And wonderful for taking pictures. Steve got lots of shots from up there, and thinks maybe he might have a candidate for the cover of the Antietam Guide.

We walked back down the tower - I don't think anyone had to carry Steve or me, but I might be mistaken - and headed back to the Visitor Center to hopefully find Mannie. And find him we did. Mannie, dripping suave and coolness, was perched behind the counter edifying upon a group of visitors. He saw me out of the corner of his eye and threw me a "J.D...." in the middle of his conversation with the folks. When he was finished we had a great talk. I introduced him to Steve and the girls, and he gave us some great things to think about for the book. I took his comment that "much about Antietam that seems obvious, may not be so obvious" to heart. Lots of folks have strong opinions about McClellan, Lee, what could have been done or wasn't, and that events as transpired seems obvious to the point of near silliness... but the key is to look deeper. Thanks, Mannie, and I will keep that in mind as we get further along.

We said goodbye to Mannie, signed some copies of the Gettysburg Guide in the bookstore (they had only 3 copies left, and Steve had to take two more cases down to them today), and we then drove to the town of Sharpsburg for lunch. Since it was Anniversary Weekend, the Sharpsburg Festival was going on. I'd attended it several times before, and the food is great. Unfortunately, they'd already run out of chicken by the time we got there (about 1:30 pm). Rats! We settled for some hot dogs and sat on a rock wall to eat. We walked through the festival a bit, then drove to our final destination - Burnside's Bridge.

There were lots of people there, and Steve got more nice shots of the area. The skeeters were getting to us, though, so after about a half hour we walked back up the hill. But before leaving, I showed the gang the venerable William McKinley monument - what friend Steve Basic calls the silliest monument on any battlefield. Ha ha, I find it hard to argue with him. Dedicated to what was then a popular and lamented former President, the monument specifically commemorates the fact that then-Sgt. McKinley brought coffee and food to the boys on the line - exposing himself to fire in doing so. Of course, if the popular McKinley had never become President and subsequently assassinated, the monument would not exist. Of all the unsung acts of bravery that took place on Civil War battlefields, and have never been commemorated by a marker of any kind, it does indeed seem a monument to emotional reaction more than anything else. Ah well.

After a fulfilling, wonderful day at Antietam, we headed down the road for Harpers Ferry by way of Shepherdstown. I'll post on the rest of the trip tomorrow.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Bloodiest Day

I can't let today go by without acknowledging the anniversary of the massive Battle of Antietam, of September 17, 1862. Some 23,000 Americans, who wore suits of blue or gray, fell as a result of the great battle of the Maryland Campaign. It still stands by far as America's bloodiest day, thought initially to have been surpassed by expected casualties of the events of 9-11.

I've long told folks that the Antietam battlefield is my second-favorite only to Gettysburg, but I'm not sure that's true. Gettysburg may be my "favorite" since I've studied it the longest, and have visited it the most - but perhaps Antietam truly is my most favored. It's pristine, and development has not been allowed to encroach so close like so many other spots. The nearby town of Sharpsburg is a wonderful historical village, and I have several friends there. Every time I go to Gettysburg, I hope to be able to take at least a few hours and visit Antietam, with perhaps a visit to Harpers Ferry to boot.

Well, this weekend I'll finally get to Antietam again. Sunday I am doing a taping of my tours of the battles of Hunterstown and Fairfield (and perhaps South Cavalry Field) based on my latest book with Steve Stanley for the website Gettysburg Daily. But I'm driving to Gettysburg Friday evening, and Steve and I are going to spend most of Saturday at Antietam doing some legwork for our new book - a guide to the Maryland Campaign. Steve is going to take some more pictures for the book (it will feature the battlefield and surrounding areas in all seasons, just like the Gettysburg Guide), and there are several obscure spots that I need to spend some time at to take some notes. I can't wait to get back there.

The Antietam casualties were ponderous. Their sacrifice is ponderous. And what it took to become a unified nation is ponderous indeed - something we should never forget amongst the many petty arguments we often get into, just to prove to ourselves that we're still there.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Change in seasons

Here in Western PA (West Pennsyltucky for my friend Rick Allen of Maryland), we are blessed with all four seasons. Sometimes in the extreme - summers can be mild or hot as hell. Winters can be mild, or we can have -22 degree nights and snow measured in feet. Fall, however, has always been my favorite.

Right around this time of year, the signs of autumn begin. The leaves are just starting to change, and soon will be in their full painted-canvas glory... to be enjoyed for a couple weeks if a huge windstorm doesn't blow them down. Folks from other parts, in fact, drive here to western or central PA to view the leaves on the mountains.

The nights cool off after still-warm days. Today, for instance, was sunny and about 76 degrees at its warmest. Tonite, however, will dip down to about 52 - wonderful sleeping weather. It's the time of year when you need to run neither the furnace or the air conditioning. The temp in the house is comfortable 24 hours a day. That nip in the air causes folks 'round these parts to look into the sky as if reading some type of annual sign, and say, "Hhmm. Football weather." I think that phrase is passed down through generations like a favorite recipe.

And the smells - you can smell those leaves. If I went into a coma for 20 years, and was blind when I woke up, all I'd have to do is smell the outside air here and I'd know it was sometime from mid-September to mid-October. No doubt. Some folks are also beginning to burn their fireplaces and woodburners at night - meaning you can smell that wonderful, sweet aroma. I caught it when I took the garbage out tonite. One of the many Amish families that live all around me must be burning wood tonite.

Fall is also marked, for me, by the shift in my household chores. Over the past few days, I tore down my 1500-sq. ft. garden, always a sign for me that the end of summer is near. The tomato plants were dead and over, and so was everything else except the pepper and cabbage plants. The cabbage is about ready to pick, and I'll be harvesting peppers for another week or two. The garden, which was a sign of growing life and expectations of harvest several months back, is now a mostly-empty patch that soon will be covered with snow. My mom, who passed away this past February, loved the cucumbers and tomatoes that I grew. This was the first growing season without her, and every time I worked the cukes, picked one, or enjoyed one in a salad, reminded me of her. Simple things like the garden kept her memory alive for me, just like so many foods and other familiar things remind me of family and friends past.

I also started moving and stacking the firewood this afternoon. I buy hardwood by the tractor-trailer load and throughout the summer cut it and split it. It's great exercise, and a terrific way to heat the house in winter. We have a modern woodburner built right into the electric furnace, and we burn wood as much as possible. Excepting the cost and time that we put into the wood, we are able to heat our 2-story 4200-sq. ft. home for about $30 a month, on average and even during the coldest months. I figure - why give the money to the electric company - and as I said it's great exercise getting it ready. My dad and I cut and split wood for his fireplace and woodburner when I was a kid, so it's an activity I've long enjoyed. And considering the Cap and Tax the cretins in Congress are instituting - doubling and tripling electric rates because of a "global warming" that doesn't exist except in the inexplicable mind of Al Gore - it'll save even more money. More money to put into Civil War research!

I was raised very Italian, and in my family all the men cook. Today, I do most of the cooking and always have. My dishes always change when autumn rolls around. This week I made my homemade chili, always a winter favorite. Another is cabbage and ham stew, and several other dishes made usually only during the cooler weather.

And this is also the time of year I start digging into whatever will be the next book. I enjoy writing over the winter months, and it fits well with the summer marketing season. If I can finish a book by January or so, then it's on schedule for editing, etc. for a spring release. I wrote most of the text of The Complete Gettysburg Guide in front of the fireplace in our living room - fire blazing, wood crackling and popping, one of my wife's crocheted blankets over my lap on which I rested the laptop. Our little dacshund Buddy curled up on my stomach. Steve Stanley and I have begun work on our next one - a guide to the 1862 Maryland Campaign - and I'm sure I'll work on it mostly in front of the fire. I had actually planned to begin early, this past August, but my nearly month-long illness precluded that. Concurrently, I'm also working on the script for the audio tour that will compliment the Gettysburg guide.

Soon, the snow will begin flying. I hate it by the time January/February rolls around, but that first snowflake we usually see around here in late October or early November evokes admiration from most folks. Hey, it snowed last night. Winter's comin'. Wonder how bad it'll be? Well, they say a bad winter this time. Or - They say a mild one this year. I don't know who the hell "they" are, but those folks seem to have an opinion about everything, don't they?

Next spring, the process starts all over again. The air will warm and the sun will get higher even while there's still snow patches on the ground. I'll start tilling the garden, eager to get the tomato and cucumber plants in. I'll think of Mom and how she loved them. I'll start wearing short-sleeved shirts even while the temperature is still in the 50's, just to let Ol Man Winter know he's not welcome anymore. And a whole new season of visiting Gettysburg and other historical sites, talking to folks about this passion, and perhaps anticipating the release of another book will all be just around the corner.

That reminds me, time to get back to writing. C'mon, Buddy, time for us to hop in the easy chair in front of the fireplace. I'm not building a fire tonite - not yet - but I'm sure he'll understand.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Steve Stanley on Civil War Talk Radio

If you didn't get to hear it live today, master cartographer/photographer Steve Stanley was the guest on Civil War Talk Radio this afternoon. In addition to the discussion about our new book, I know you'll enjoy hearing Steve talk about his early interest in history and mapmaking, how he develops his maps, and his thoughts about battlefields and preservation. Most folks know Steve by the beautiful maps he produces for the Civil War Preservation Trust, and now through the interview you'll be introduced to much more! Click on the link above (you should be able to listen to the show by clicking the player in the middle of the screen, and soon the show will be archived by date).

Great job, Steve, and congratulations!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

PCN-TV Interview about "The Complete Gettysburg Guide"

Yesterday (Wednesday) I traveled to our capitol, Harrisburg Pa, to the studios of PCN-TV to tape an hour-long interview for the channel's "PA Books." I was a bit nervous going into it, since it was my first on-camera interview, but host Brian Lockman (left) made me feel very much at ease and was very easy to talk to. It was a great time! It was a very conversational interview, which made it fun. Brian told me that he really enjoyed The Complete Gettysburg Guide, and knew it very well. His questions about it, however, were very well done - instead of simply asking me about this or that in the book, he asked more general questions about Gettysburg, which allowed me to connect the topics with the book however I wished. I thought that was a really terrific way to do it. Instead of just a fact-by-fact accounting of what is in the book, we were able to have more of a conversation about its contents, the tours, the battlefield and town, and the battle's impact on history and its participants.

The taping that we did will be edited to one hour. For a little behind-the-scenes, one thing you probably won't see (hopefully!) is when I deftly dumped nearly the entire contents of my coffee mug into my lap during the interview! Brian needed to take a break at one point for a drink, and I decided to do the same - accidentally spilling the water on my pants. We had a good laugh over it, and I thought that maybe they should just leave it in the final airing - folks who know me well would just figure "that's J.D." :)

The interview is scheduled to air on October 25 at 9:00 pm. Here is a link to the PA Books section of PCN-TV's website (scroll down through the window on the left side of the page to see the section for the book). Over 3,000,000 households in Pennsylvania receive PCN, and it will also be available as a podcast on their website so anyone can see it. I'll provide more information when I have it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

"Complete Gettysburg Guide" audio companion update

A wonderful review of the book appears in the November 2009 issue of America's Civil War magazine, in subscriber's hands and on newsstands now. I repeat it here, but also importantly for the last paragraph of Robin Friedman's review:

Casual visitors to Gettysburg usually do just fine following the National Park Service's auto tour map to get their fill of the historic battlefield. But if you really want to explore the sites and events surrounding the epic three-day battle, this comprehensive new guide by Civil War historian J. David Petruzzi and accomplished cartographer/photographer Steven Stanley is a welcome and
invaluable resource.

The guide's subtitle - Walking and Driving Tours of the Battlefield, Town, Cemeteries and Other Topics of Historical Interest - tells you all you need about the authors' goal here. Petruzzi and Stanley have developed 11 separate tours of the battle in stunning, colorful detail. The first is a tour of the June 26 Marsh Creek skirmish between Confederate cavalry and Pennsylvania militia and the final two examine the battlefield's beautiful rock carvings and its outlying field hospital sites.

Published on high quality, glossy paper, the 320-page hardcover book is both durable and easy to hold as you follow the tours. Directions for each tour's sites are provided in meticulous detail, and Stanley's maps and photographs are first-rate.

Petruzzi opens the guide with an extensive overview of the Gettysburg Campaign and then the Marsh Creek skirmish tour. The first day of the main battle often gets bypassed in favor of the fighting on July 2 and 3, but the authors want to make clear that what happened on July 1 is critical to comprehending the battle as a whole. Petruzzi and Stanley provide 12 specific stops on this tour, including the often-overlooked memorial three miles west of town marking the conflict's opening shots.

The tour for the July 2-3 fighting comes in a single chapter, with the action arranged by location rather than chronologically. This approach allows the reader to see the interrelationships between the fighting on those days. Thus, the tour begins with the Confederate position on Seminary ridge and covers the Southern penetration of the Union center late on July 2, almost at the same point it attained briefly during Pickett's Charge.

Other tours cover the little-known but significant fighting at Brinkerhoff's Ridge on July 2, as well as the July 3 battle between J.E.B. Stuart and David Gregg at East Cavalry Field. Separate tours cover the obscure July 2 cavalry clash at Hunterstown and the July 3 engagement at Fairfield, a loss for the Union mounted arm.

The authors give the Evergreen and Soldiers' National cemeteries deserved attention but should have looked further at the African-American presence during the battle. The town's small Lincoln Cemetery, a historic burial ground for African Americans, offers
eloquent testimony to the Civil War and is worth a visit.

Thank you, Robin, for such a great review of the book. As to your final point, I had actually considered trying to work in a tour of the Lincoln Cemetery (one I have visited many, many times and as recently as this past July), along with visits to Cashtown and the pass, Black's Cemetery, the battle at Hanover, etc. However, space was the consideration. If you look carefully at the book, you'll see that our publisher Ted Savas at Savas-Beatie chose the much higher quality (and expensive) sewn binding of the heavy, gloss paper - rather than the common glued binding. Note that many sections of dozens of pages, each sewn together and then bound together to produce the book, make up the whole. Logistically, with this type of production, you can't just add, say, 3 or 4 more pages. You'd have to add dozens. That's why we had to make the decision to include what we did. Another sewn section in the book would have added perhaps $5 or $10 more to the price... knocking out a huge segment of the buying public. The book retails for only $39.95 ( less than many black-and-white hardcovers today) and less than $30 on online sellers like Amazon. A bigger book would retail closer to $50, and no one would buy it.

When we began the book, we were given the 320-page limit by Ted (all with an eye toward desired production costs of the book driving the affordable retail price), meaning that once all the text, maps, and photos were produced and chosen, Steve had to lay it all out to see how it would fit. Also, notice that the opening of each tour chapter features a photograph that "bleeds" over a facing two-page spread, which is how we wanted each chapter to begin. This, then, is another factor that dictates how, and on what page, each preceding chapter must end - further dictating the page count of each tour chapter. Obviously, we knew how many of Steve's maps had to be in the book - we were not going to short-change those, period. Depending on their size, they all take up a certain amount of space. Of course, you also have to calculate in the front and back matter, bibliography, and index. (Now do you see why Steve, in the Introduction, tells what a long, tedious process it was to design the book? :) We had originally chosen to include a tour of Hanover, but it just wouldn't fit. At the end, we also had to remove several photos that Steve had planned, and wanted, to include, but it was either remove them or remove text. It was a long process of choosing what could be included (based on necessity and desire) and what had to go.

In the end, then, the desire to include "one more tour" of, for example, the Lincoln Cemetery, or Cashtown, or whatever, would have driven us to add an entire section of many more pages, driving up the price of the book and making it much less affordable to a wide variety of folks. So it was a question of adding all those 4 or 5 other tours - or none of them. Not one or two. This type of question has come up since the book's release ("Why not add this, it would have taken only a couple pages....?") and folks understand the logistics of book production when I explain this to them.

However, it allows us to... include these sites in the audio tour! The audio tour will compliment (not replace) the book. So there will be tours, sites, and events in the audio tour not in the book, and vice versa. The audio tour will not be a simple reading of the book text, and in fact the two will be quite different, giving the visitor a much fuller, broader experience when they have both (a must!). Steve and I have many, many different sites and events planned for inclusion in the audio tour, and if anyone has any suggestions please do let me know - we'd be interested and grateful for all ideas.

So that's the answer to why this or that didn't make the book - but is very likely to be in the audio companion. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 4, 2009

"Plenty of Blame To Go Around" makes Top 50 Civil War Books of All Time list

I was quite honored to learn today that Plenty of Blame To Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg made the updated Old Baldy Civil War Roundtable (Philadelphia PA) list of the 50 Civil War Books of All Time. This book (my first, and co-authored with Eric Wittenberg) appeared in 2006 and came in at #50. We are in terrific company - classics by Foote, McPherson, Shaara, Sears, Frassanito, Catton, Warner, etc. headline the list.
To have your work thought of as important as these classics is humbling and gratifying. Thank you to those who formulate the list, to all those who have enjoyed the book, and everyone for thinking so highly of the work. It is appreciated beyond words!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dimitri Rotov's review of The Complete Gettysburg Guide

We have been humbled by all the wonderful reviews that the book has been garnering. Over the past couple of months, I have been receiving emails from folks who have read it and used it on the field, and all the comments have been terrific. There are several bloggers who specialize in book reviews, and Dimitri Rotov is one that I (and everyone) respect very much. His reviews are always very insightful and detailed. Dimitri tells it like it is, and it's difficult to impress him - which is as it should be. I enjoy reading his entries every day.

Yesterday (September 2) Dimitri put up his review of The Guide. As expected, he goes into a great amount of detail. We couldn't be happier with the review, and once I read Dimitri's comments they - like so many others' -reinforced for me why we did this book. There is no better teacher of historical sites than to look at them for yourself, and study them on the spot. Thank you so much for the review, Dimitri, and I'm simply speechless. I spoke with Steve Stanley yesterday and he is one happy and humbled camper after reading it :)

On the "shingles" front (see previous post), I'm slowly healing. Once the pain is entirely gone, I think I'll be back to 100%. We're getting there!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My dance with shingles - and I ain't talking about my roof...

My apologies to my readers for not posting for a few weeks - I've gotten several calls and emails from folks wondering if I'm just "laying low" for the summer, or if I've gotten lost. Well, when August 1 came, I had intended to follow through with my plan to take the month off from researching and writing, and gets lots of stuff done at the house... including moving the entire library from the first floor to the second. I had intended to do those things, that is.

On the 1st, which was a Saturday, the better half and I took a ride to do some antiquing and visit yard sales, something we enjoy doing once in a while. Hey, yard sales can be great places to find books! After making our last stop, I noticed that I had a few blisters on the back of my head. I thought maybe it had something to do with the hot sun. We had the roof off the Vette and I thought perhaps I had gotten a little too many rays.

I didn't think any more of it - until I woke up Sunday morning. There were more blisters on the back of my head, my neck, and also my right cheek. Aw, *&%$#@, I thought... poison ivy? I was out back near the woods cutting grass on Saturday morning, and maybe I got into it somehow. During the day the blisters got progressively worse. I got some Poison Ivy Wash at the store, and hoped it would help.

By Monday morning the blistering got worse and began to hurt. And the pain wasn't just at the surface, it hurt deeper in the muscle. While at the office, I called my family doctor to get in to see her so we could do something about it. She was on vacation, and her partner was covering her patients. Unfortunately, though, I couldn't get in to see her until Tuesday afternoon. When she took a look, she diagnosed it as poison ivy, or oak, or whatever. The strange thing about it, which I told her, was that it wasn't itchy at all - but it was hurting like hell. She was convinced it was contact dermatitis, and prescribed a steroid cream to put on the rash. I left, picked up the prescription, and immediately started smearing the stuff all over rash.

By Thursday, though, it hadn't cleared up much. The blisters had turned from white to red, and they seemed to be spreading. On top of it all, I started to get dizzy. I called the doc's office about it, and she prescribed steroid pills to give me a stronger meds regimen. I was so dizzy I could barely walk, let alone drive, so my wife picked up the pills. I dutifully started taking them. I was out of the office both Thursday and Friday, mainly because of the dizziness.

Saturday was pretty bad by late afternoon. The dizziness got worse, and I lost my appetite. All I could do was lie in bed. If I got up, which was rare, I had to hold onto things or I'd fall down. I was getting pretty naseous, and the fact that I couldn't eat was turning my stomach into knots. Sunday was no better. I was hoping that whatever reaction I was having would begin clearing by Monday.

Fat chance. On Monday I was dizzy as ever, and the blisters turned into ugly scabs. I still wasn't eating, and by then I'd lost about 12 pounds. (I'm 6'1" and 180, so I'm not wide to begin with.) Knowing that things were a lot more serious than just a case of poison ivy, I told my wife to run me to the Emergency Room that night.

We got to the ER about 9:30 pm. I told the admitting nurse that I thought maybe I was having a reaction to the steroid pills, which can make one dizzy and naseous. But in my case it was pretty bad, and after 3 days of it I couldn't take it anymore. Plus I wasn't eating and I was getting dehydrated. I hobbled back to the exam room. After my vitals were checked out, in walked one of the ER physicians.

It only took about a 10-second examination for him to shake his head and declare it was shingles. Shingles? What the - ? And a pretty bad case, too. Because we were treating poison ivy, it was shingles that had gone untreated for about 10 days. The blistering had gotten infected (hence the redness) and to top it off, I was dizzy as hell because it had given me an inner ear infection. It was so far advanced that it was too late to give me the shot they normally give in the early stages of shingles. A second doctor came in at the request of the first, and he too recognized it as shingles. Both shook their head when they learned another doctor had misdiagnosed it, and everyone felt bad that I had suffered this long. It was virtually untreated, and to add to my misery, I couldn't eat, was dehydrated, had a sore neck and shoulder from sleeping in a weird position (when I could sleep at all), and the ear infection completely debilitated me.

I was given and prescribed a powerful antibiotic which would knock out the shingles and the infection. I would take 2,000 milligrams per day for the next 10 days, and all I could basically do was ride out the storm. I was told I'd have a pretty rotten couple of weeks ahead of me.

And rotten they were. I could only spend the next 3 days in bed. But thankfully, the infection(s) subsided, and the dizziness finally went away over the past weekend. By Saturday my appetite returned, and I ate everything in sight. Karen spent about $200 at the grocery store, and I ate it all and then some. I've actually gained all of the weight back already. The blistering and rash are nearly gone, but the worry now is that there may be some scarring (although not too bad) because it became so advanced. I saw the chiropractor, who put my neck back into position on Tuesday. My neck was out for two weeks, and the muscles were completely wrecked. That's starting to heal now. Because of everything, I had so much pain in the head/neck area for nearly two weeks it's hard to describe.

The docs told me that shingles is basically an adult form of chicken pox. If you had it when you were a kid, you're at risk for another breakout later on, because the virus lies dormant in you for 20, 30, even 50 or more years. Neither I nor my father can remember me having it, though. Thankfully, there is a shot that is given to prevent another breakout, or will make it less severe. Once I'm completely healed, I'll probably get it. I've since learned that my sister had it some time ago too. What has really scared me is that if left completely untreated, it could have caused deafness in my right ear. If it gets into your eye, for instance, you can go blind.

I got back into the office on Monday, and I'm pretty much back to normal. There's some numbness, though, in my neck and cheek, and I'm hoping there's little or no scarring. If there are any lasting effects, however, that first doctor is getting a call - from my attorney. She called me at home the day after I was at the ER (she got a report from them) and I'm sure she was fishing around to see what my attitude was. I let her know that at this point, it's a matter of time to see if I fully recover.

I realize that there are much worse health maladies to go through, but this one was pretty awful. Getting a misdiagnosis meant that a pretty bad illness turned into a horrible one. I had nearly three weeks of abject hell, and I'll never forget August 2009.

Now it's time to get out the hammer and tools, and get to work on that library. Let's see, I wonder how long it will take to carry about 4000 books upstairs... 8 or 10 at a time...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Amazon/Barnes & Noble reviews

We really need more online reviews of The Complete Gettysburg Guide on and everyone who can put up a new review of the book beginning today (July 28), please email me at, and we will tell you about a special offer we and our publisher have for you. Clicking on the links above will take you to the book's pages on those sites. Please place your review on the sites, then email me for details. Thank you!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"The Complete Gettysburg Guide" digital companion

After a couple weeks of finally "gittin' stuff done" around the house and catching up on lots of things, I have been talking with Steve Stanley about our upcoming projects. We're just now starting on what will be a digital companion to "The Complete Gettysburg Guide." We will have a downloadable and CD touring companion to the book that folks can take along and play in their vehicle and/or personal devices. In addition to including Steve's maps, the companion will complement and supplement the book with additional places to see and events to tour on the battlefield, in the town, and other places. Audio tours are extremely popular with folks, and many, many people have asked if/when we'll be doing an audio companion for the book.

This weekend I will begin writing the script, and Steve is starting to work on the package itself and the maps. If anyone has any suggestions, please pass them along to me. I will continually keep you posted here as to our progress!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Back from Gettysburg

Wow, it was a whirlwind four days in Gettysburg from July 1 to 4. Steve Stanley, Mike Nugent and I had a busy time doing book signings almost constantly, but it was a lot of fun. It was really great seeing Mike, whom I hadn't seen since last summer.

The reception of The Complete Gettysburg Guide has been beyond our expectations, and we are truly humbled and grateful. Everyone has given us such wonderful comments about it, and we especially love hearing from those that have taken it out on the field and used it. But my buddy Steve Basic made the most poignant observation of all, and one I couldn't agree with more: if someone gives this book to, say, a ten year-old, and it sparks his interest in Gettysburg and history in general, then all the hard work was more than worth it.

Over the four days, we had a lot of book signings and talks at wonderful Gettysburg stores such as The American History Store, the Gettysburg Museum and Gift Center, Gallery 30, the Supply Wagon Sutler, as well as at the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center. We also attended the Hunterstown Heritage Days over the anniversary of the cavalry fight there, on July 2.

On July 3, it was a special treat to speak in front of a large crowd under the Sacred Trust tent outside the GNMP Visitor Center. During our second book signing inside the VC that day, we were able to meet filmaker Ken Burns, who was signing his books beside us. Below is a pic of Ken, Steve Stanley, me, and Mike Nugent during a short break.

At Hunterstown, I spoke to the attendees about the book and also the preservation efforts going on at Hunterstown. Below is a shot of the talk. Laurie and Roger Harding are true gems as the coordinators of the Hunterstown Historical Society, and it was great seeing the dedication of the new Civil War Trails wayside on their historical property, the Tate farm.

Below is a shot of Steve and I flanking wonderful Custer living historian, Steve Alexander, at the Hunterstown event as he holds his copy of the book.

Here is a pic of me giving my talk during the Sacred Trust (Gettysburg Foundation) event in the tent outside the GNMP Visitor Center on July 3. We had a packed tent, and I got lots of great questions about the book. I think we signed about 40 copies of the book for folks, and we really enjoyed talking to people about the tours and places to see that are included.

Charles Joyce is simply one amazing artist. When you visit Gallery 30 at 30 York Street in Gettysburg, check out his work. During our signing there on July 4, Chuck was having an exhibition of some of his work at the gallery, and I had to have my photo taken with him in front of some of his paintings. He is below on the left.

I'm very glad to be back home after this, my fourth trip this year to Gettysburg. But I can look back on many days of talking to many amazing folks about the book. Now it's time to take time to get some things done around the house! (Oh, and get back to my real job, too!)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Weekend in Gettysburg, and an unexpected ending

I arrived home late last night from three great days in Gettysburg, and I really wanted to post a wrap-up of the trip before going to bed, but I just couldn't. True, I was tired and it was already rather late by the time I got things squared away... but I couldn't help thinking about something that happened at the end of our last book signing last night, and I needed to give myself a day before posting anything. More on that as I close this post.

I arrived in Gettysburg late on Thursday afternoon, which gave me time to make some visits around the battlefield. As I've mentioned here before, I've been taking much more time on my visits this year to spend simple, quality time on the field. I enjoy closely examining the new vistas afforded by the tree clearings. This time I took more time to examine the Slyder farm area on the southern end of the field, then Munshower's Knoll. I also took several minutes to once again look around in the area of the stone walls bordering the southern end of Rose's wheatfield. After eating way too much (for the hundredth time) at Mayflower's Chinese Buffet, I stopped at several retailers in town and signed newly-arrived copies of The Complete Gettysburg Guide that the stores had pre-sold and wanted signed so the customers could pick them up.

I got to the Reliance Mine Saloon a little after 9 pm, where I met some friends. I called it an early night, however, since I wanted to get up early and visit the Visitor Center bookstore and spend a couple more hours on the field. Dr. Dave and Carol Moore graciously put me up again this trip.

The book has been selling very strongly in the VC bookstore since its arrival nearly two weeks ago, and in the morning I took a look at the displays. They feature the book at each entrance, as well as on the register counters. We all are very flattered that they're doing that in addition to being on the shelf in the Gettysburg section. Customers can easily find the book and the prominent and numerous displays are very generous of the store folks.

I then took a slow cruise of Culp's Hill and motored over to the American History Store (on the corner of Steinwehr and Baltimore Street) to see manager Jim Glessner. As I've said here many times before, Jim has turned this former Greystone's store into the premier bookstore in Gettysburg. That, in addition to the DVDs and historical maps he carries makes the store a wonderful place to browse. The book selection is now even better than it was under the Greystone ownership. Steve Stanley and I were slated for a book signing in the store that evening as well as Saturday evening (7-9 pm). Jim had secured a sidewalk sandwich board to advertise the signings, and buddy (and Licensed Battlefield Guide) Jim Hessler was going to be with us as well, signing copies of his brand-new book on Sickles at Gettysburg.

After dinner Steve and I arrived at Jim's store for the signing, and it went very well. We signed quite a number of books for customers, as did Jim Hessler. But the most enjoyable part for me always is talking to people. We had great conversations about topics addressed in the book - not only specific parts of the battlefield, but also the rock carvings, Letterman Hospital, and the cemeteries. Folks really do have quite broad interests in Gettysburg, and people are quite eager to see them addressed in The Guide.

I then had a great couple hours in the Mine with friends, including Blake Magner. I really enjoy talking with Blake - especially hearing his experiences. Besides being widely read and great to discuss Gettysburg with, he's entertaining as hell. His dry wit and fantastic stories are wonderful. Bill Frassanito was also holding court that night, and I hated to have to leave about 11:30, but Steve and I had an early and long day ahead of us.

I picked Steve up a little after 7 am Saturday, and we headed off to the All-Star Complex on Rt. 15 South for the Gettysburg Collector's Show. We had a table there, and sold copies of The Guide as well as large copies of some of Steve's maps. Wow, I love that show. Of course, there are all manner of weapons and artifacts there - but I love the books. Several of the top book sellers are there, and I have found many of my old first editions at previous shows. But I really have to behave there... otherwise, I'd re-mortgage the house after a couple hours and the wife would kill me...

There were thousands of visitors, and we sold a nice amount of the book. I did make several trips around the floor, and purchased a few books (but didn't have to mortgage the house, thankfully). Steve's girlfriend Kyrstie (a wonderful lady, and - just between us - several levels above Steve's station :)) helped us out at the show and even brought us lunch. During the show Saturday and Sunday, lots of buddies dropped by. Newly-minted Licensed Guide Stan O'Donnell and his wife Bev came by, as did George Franks, Karl Fauzer, Sal Prezioso, Duane Siskey and Lori Krick, and others. I spoke for a time with Andy Turner, whose Gettysburg Magazine display was right across our table (making me stare at the Bob Younger book collection the whole time!). Andy and I spoke about a couple articles I'm going to be sending him, and both he and Col. Silas Felton bought copies of the book.

I forced Steve to take me to the Chinese Buffet again for dinner, where I again ate enough to choke Pleasonton's whole cavalry corps. We had our second book signing at Jim Glessner's store that evening, then we all went to the Mine for Book 'n A Beer night. A couple customers bought copies of The Guide, but the highlight was again listening to Blake for a couple hours.

Sunday morning we were again at the Book Show before 9, and we stayed until 1 pm. It was a very nice show - I got to spend a good deal of time not only perusing the books for sale, but also examining cavalry sabers and carbines. I really wish my friend (and co-author of the book One Continuous Fight) Mike Nugent could attend a show - he'd go nuts looking at the weapons and artifacts.

After packing up we had lunch with Kyrstie and Steve's daughter Ashleigh (along with Duane and Lori) and then we went to the Visitor Center for our 3-5pm signing there. There we met new Licensed Guide Christina Moon and gave her a copy of The Guide. Christina recently suffered a house fire, and she lost her entire book collection along with just about everything else. Her many friends have been helping her rebuild her collection, and it was an honor to present her with a copy of the book.

The signing went very well. Even though there weren't that many customers so late on a Sunday, we signed quite a number of books. One customer's story, though, really made an impression on Steve and me. The gentleman had attended a Smithsonian-sponsored tour with venerable historian Ed Bearss last week, and on the bus Ed had his copy of The Guide. Ed passed the book around the bus and really praised it. Steve and I were really floored by that, and we are humbled by Ed's endorsement. The gentleman had made a point to come to the VC to get the book and was happy that we happened to be there for a signing at the time. To know that Ed brought his copy of the book along on the tour and showed it to folks was one of the nicest things we'd heard about the book.

Close to 5 pm, as we were about the finish, Len Riedel, Executive Director of the Blue and Gray Education Society came by. Len had brought several wounded Iraqi War veterans to Gettysburg for a tour of the field, and some came into the bookstore. After a few minutes, one veteran came rolling up in his wheelchair. I began speaking with him, and he told us that his right leg had been blown off by an IED. The terrorists had been targeting him that day, because he had been hitting them pretty hard. They hit him four times before he lost the leg, and he happily told me that the ones who wounded him are "with us no more." He was actually rather soft-spoken, and told me that this was his first visit to Gettysburg since a young boy. His own year-old son was sitting in his lap, and I really loved talking to him. He was going to be fitted with an artificial leg soon, and had a great attitude about his wound, calling it "just losing a foot, that's all." He looked at the book, and really liked it. As he was talking with Steve and Len, I snuck over to a cash register, paid for a copy of the book, then went back to them. Steve and I signed a copy for the veteran and we have it to him. He really appreciated it, but we told him that we appreciated his service much more and thanked him for fighting for and protecting us. As I spoke with him, I wanted to cry, which frustrated me. I have seen several wounded before, but his wonderful attitude impressed me more than I can express. He took life as it comes, and accepted his wound like it's just part of the job. His lovely wife came by shortly after, and I looked at this little family in which there was evidently a lot of love. The soldier looked to just be about 25 years old, but I predict he has a lot of life ahead of him. We regretfully said our goodbyes, but it was after 5 pm and I needed to hit the road and get home. I drove Steve home and got on the road, but thought about the soldier nearly all the way home. I'll never forget him, the story he told me, and the sacrifice he made for all of us and for justice.

I have bought something over 3,000 books in my life, but I will always remember that the one we gave him was the best purchase I ever made. It's also one that I will never forget. It was a terrific few days in Gettysburg again, but made all the more special by meeting that soldier at the end. It taught me more about the people I write about, a little primer that is always welcome, and reinforces the purpose of all that we do as students of history.