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.