Monday, January 26, 2009

Ever wonder...

- What the other side of Mt. Rushmore looks like?

Now you know.

In other words, don't judge a book by its cover?

(This was so funny when I first saw it, I just had to post it here. I'm assuming that big butt must be TR's.)

Myles Keogh Blog

I just found a great blog dedicated to the life and career of Myles Keogh by a follower of this blog. It's really fabulous, and my friend Brian Pohanka would be very proud. I added the link to it to my blogroll, and I commend it to you.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Foreword to "Complete Gettysburg Guide"

This past week, popular Gettysburg National Military Park Ranger-Historian Eric A. Campbell sent in the Foreword to the new book by me and Steve Stanley, The Complete Gettysburg Guide. I've known Eric for many years, and have taken several tours by him as well as spent some quality time on the field with him. When I approached publisher Ted Savas with the idea for this book early last year, I already had one guy in mind for the Foreword, and that was Eric.

I always enjoy being around Eric. He's one of the most knowledgeable folks I've ever known, and I respect him greatly. Plus, being out on the field with him is always a great time - he's very animated when speaking and his passion gets contagious among the group he's talking with. I recall several years back taking a tour of Bigelow's 9th Mass Battery at Gettysburg on July 2 with him, and how much respect I gained for Bigelow and his gunners that day, all because of the way Eric presented the tour. At the time, Eric had just come out with his book, A Grand Terrible Dramma, containing the letters and sketches of battery member Charles Wellington Reed.

After reviewing the book's manuscript and most of the page images (the book is designed by co-author Steve, who also took all the modern photographs and created all of the maps), Eric wrote a wonderful Foreword. Steve and I are very honored by Eric's kind words and support for the book. Here are a few snippets from it:

The Gettysburg battlefield is truly a national treasure that is not only
sacred ground, but also contains thousands of sites and stories that can
literally take a lifetime to explore and learn. The main thing any visitor needs
to begin this journey is time. The second most important need is a good source
of knowledge to provide the necessary background and information to get started
and point the visitor in the right direction. In my opinion, The Complete
Gettysburg Guide by J. David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley provides that necessary
knowledge and direction in a way that no other book has yet accomplished.

This guide not only provides an overview of the main Gettysburg
battlefield, but includes background information on the Gettysburg Campaign,
explaining not only how the armies arrived at Gettysburg, but why—thus properly
placing the battle within the context of the entire war... I am confident that
all readers—from well-informed “students” of the battle to novices and those
just beginning their tramps over the fields of Gettysburg—will find this book
educational, constantly useful, and endlessly interesting. It is perfectly
suited for long use, over and over again, for each future return visit to
Gettysburg... Together, the text and maps contained in this work create
one of the most useful and comprehensive guides of America’s largest and
bloodiest battlefield available today, and I believe will remain so for some
time to come.

Thanks, Eric - we're so glad you are part of this work, and we hope all students of, and visitors to the field find it useful.

Release date: May 15, 2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

The forest for the trees

My father (who is basking in sunny Florida at the moment, the bum!) forwarded the following pictures to me. They're some of those illusions - the kind in which you see different things depending how you look at them. At first glance, some people see one thing, others see something different. When told what different items can appear in each one depending on your perspective, you may then see something completely different.

Like this one:

At first glance, did you see a face or the word "liar"? Look it over again.

Seeing pictures such as this made me think of something that we researchers and writers often go through. Many times, we look at evidence with a pre-conceived conclusion. For instance, if we believe that Jeb Stuart's 8-day ride to the Gettysburg battlefield from Virginia was a blatant derelict of duty and disobedient of Lee's orders to him, then we will classify the primary evidence as indicating that conclusion. If we feel that his ride was all that he could have done under the circumstances, then we will read the primary evidence as indicating that.

I have a friend - quite a Gettysburg afficianado - who often has views quite contrary to the "accepted" notions. Such a view can be quite healthy, however. That attitude can make you look at primary sources with a critical eye, instead of accepting what "most" historians and students think. However, regardless of your opinions, you must be open to what the evidence tells you. Everyone will look at evidence differently. At some point, after weighing everything, we either reach a conclusion or - as is often the case - no conclusion at all. But the sources and facts speak to us as only they can, and it's up to us as students and historians to make the best judgment of the evidence.

Check this one out:

How many horses do you see in this picture? Can you find seven all together? I know - drives you nuts, doesn't it? Click on it and any of the pictures to enlarge them.

My friend with the always-contrary views sometimes seems like the person who typically sees only three or four horses in the picture above, and insists there aren't any more. Or, at least, resists the fact there are more. Sometimes the answer in the evidence isn't so clear. We have to be open to different interpretations. Writing a book in which you tackle controversial subjects is very much like showing a picture like this, and then pointing out where the other horses are. Even then, sometimes folks still can't see them. In the end, though, sometimes you have to let folks figure it out for themselves - and either see the horses, or at least give them enough to look at to form their own conclusions.

The two books that Eric Wittenberg and I did together (the second with Mike Nugent) are very much like these pictures. In Plenty of Blame to Go Around, Eric and I took on the oft-volatile subject of Stuart's ride to Gettysburg. The majority of folks come down on one side or the other of the issue. Either the events of Stuart's ride were justified, or they were not. A minority of folks are in the middle ground, feeling that some things could have been done differently, but that several events occured that were beyond Stuart's control. The fact that we called it "Plenty of Blame" indicates that Eric and I were intent on showing a picture like these to our readers, while giving them all the information they could, and then allow them the opportunity to see what they see.

In our Conclusion to the book, Eric and I did not hesitate to throw blame where we felt it was justified, but also to point out possible exculpatory evidence when justified. We have often said that if we don't change anyone's opinion with the book, that's fine with us. If a reader feels more sure of his/her opinion (regardless of what it is) after reading the book, then that's fine too. And for the reader who did not previously have enough information to have an opinion, we hope we gave him/her enough to think about to feel comfortable in forming one.

What do you see in this one?

Do you see three ships and the rest arches, or all ships?

Like I try to convince my contrary friend, it's important to look everything over and weigh all the evidence. One sentence in an Official Report does not a complete story make. The next sentence may be contradictory to what you believe, but you can't discount it.
In our second book, written with Mike Nugent - One Continuous Fight - we tackled the story of the armies' retreat from Gettysburg. Army of the Potomac commander George Meade is often castigated for his "slow and too cautious" pursuit of Lee's army after the battle. Perhaps the criticism is justified. Perhaps the evidence deserves a closer look. But like the first book, we set out to give the reader all the information possible about what happened over those days from July 4-14, 1863 like never before. Then, in our Conclusion, we set out to cast blame where deserved, and credit as well. It needs to be told, for instance, what Federal cavalry commander Alfred Pleasonton did and did not do during the retreat. And it also needs to be told what Stuart accomplished. In the end, it takes a lot of evidence and facts to form a conclusion - or, in other words, to see the whole picture.

Like this one:

At first glance, did you see a baby in this one? Look at the whole picture at once, and then the elements within it.

The next book that Eric and I are penning together is a narrative of the events following the Gettysburg retreat, from July 15 through August 1. We have been uncovering a veritable mountain on material on the period, to the time that the armies assumed nearly the very same positions that they had at the start of the Gettysburg Campaign. If Meade was reticent to aggressively attack Lee during the retreat, it's quite a different story over the ensuing weeks. We intend to tell that story (which is heretofore a large gap in the scholarship of 1863), give our readers enough to form their own opinion, and help them see the whole picture.

In the end, sometimes it's enough to spin your head, and we realize that. Look at this picture:

Now, like it says, focus on the dot in the center, then slowly move your head back and forth (closer then further away) and see what the outside circles do. Sometimes we look at this picture for what it seems to be, then it changes when our perspective changes. Likewise, evidence seems to tell us one thing, then what we "see" changes with our perspective - looking closely and then stepping back for a bit.

Sorry if I gave you a headache. But sometimes that's the job of researchers and writers. Take two aspirin and read my next book.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Light at the end of the tunnel - for me and football

I've been doing the final edits on the new book I've done with Steve Stanley - The Complete Gettysburg Guide - due out in May. Steve, besides being one of the best in historical cartography, is also about the most talented graphic designer I've ever seen. Steve is laying out the design of the book and we are doing the final tweaks on the placement of certain items. Some time in March, I will post some of the page images here so folks will get a sneak peak at the look of the book.

We also must express appreciation to Rea Andrew Redd, who made a very nice preliminary post about the new book on his blog. We're flattered that from what he has seen, Rea feels that the book will be a must-have resource for something like the Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Exam. We hope so, too! It certainly has a mountain of that obscure "stuff" that any Guide, Ranger, and Gettysburg student likes to know. Thanks Rea, and we hope you enjoy the book once you get it, and that your expectations are realized.

On the lighter side, it was great watching my Steelers (that's "Stillers" for my fellow Western Pennsyltucky comrades) trounce the Chargers today. If they can make it to the Supa Bo... sorry... Super Bowl, wouldn't a face-off against the Iggles... darn... Eagles be fabulous? A Pennsylvania Super Bowl!

Ben looked terrific today. He was definitely on his game.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

"America's Civil War" article - March 2009

The March 2009 issue of "America's Civil War" magazine has just appeared on newsstands and should be in subscriber's mailboxes shortly. I and Steve Stanley have an article in this issue, which is adapted from the Gettysburg Rock Carvings chapter of our upcoming book, The Complete Gettysburg Guide (Savas Beatie, May 2009). Nine of the more than two dozen battlefield carvings from the book appear in the magazine, along with full-color maps and photographs by Steve. The article should whet the appetite of anyone looking forward to seeing the book's full tour of rock carvings, and those who wish to seek them out.

In an upcoming issue of the magazine "Hallowed Ground," which is the official publication of the Civil War Preservation Trust, Steve and I will have another article - this one adapted from the chapter on the June 26 skirmish at Marsh Creek west of Gettysburg between Elijah White's Confederate cavalry and the 26th Pennsylvania Emergency Militia as well as the resulting skirmish later that day at Bayly's Hill (the Witmer Farm). I think the article will be in the issue that is released in March.