Tuesday, November 15, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Rashness of That Hour" wins Robertson Prize

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 9, 2011

Guest Blogger: William Fuzia visits grave of Alfred Pleasonton

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

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

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

Friday, September 2, 2011

Video Trailer for The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook

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

Friday, August 26, 2011

"To Appomattox" blog

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

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Interview by Greg Caggiano

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

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My updated website

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

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

Friday, August 5, 2011

"The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook" now available

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

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

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

History Channel's "Gettysburg" - I have survived

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Peter Seaborg Award" Honorable Mention for The Complete Gettysburg Guide

Co-author Steve Stanley and I were notified today by Dr. Mark Snell, Director of the George Tyler Center for the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University, that The Complete Gettysburg Guide received Honorable Mention for the 2010 Peter Seaborg Award. We are quite humbled and grateful for this honor, received among 35 nominees for 2010. Information about past winners, and information about the award itself, can be found here.

Thank you to Dr. Snell and the award staff for this very nice honor!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Scott brothers' "Gettysburg" on History channel, May 30

Yep, there's been a good deal of banter about the premier of a 2-hour docudrama called "Gettysburg," produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, on History channel this Memorial Day, May 30. Known for their well-deserved successes on the big screen, the Scotts appear to have brought their talents and skills to bear on the July 1863 battle to kick off History's commitment to programming for the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

Lots of talk about the production indeed. I, like many, are eagerly anticipating the show. For one, it's good to see History actually get back to programming about... uh... history. History other than Ancient Aliens that is. I'm aware that shows like Swamp People and Ice Road Truckers have been immensely popular, but don't such programs belong on a separate channel? For the past several years I have been but one of a legion of voices, seemingly crying from the proverbial desert, that History get back to what it always did best - present programs about events that actually took place beyond five minutes ago.

For another, having "big" names such as the Scotts producing such a show seems to guarantee that it will have high production qualities. Such qualities are already evident in the two (that I am aware of thus far) trailer teasers that have been released on the internet and the channel itself. You can see lots of CGI, lots of artillery going off in the soldiers' faces, and captivating camera work. The budget for this production had to be considerable.

There is a lot of other talk about the show going around, however. The trailers have been quickly scrutinized for the accuracy of the uniform, equipment and scenery portrayals - in such productions dealing with anything about the Civil War, it's inevitable that amateur and professional historians will look closely to see if any egregious historical inaccuracies are evident.
And boy, there are actually quite a few seen in just the couple minutes' worth of the trailers.

In the trailer that can be seen on History's page here, a number of historical whoopsies show up. In the first few seconds, the Union soldier seen marching in column, then getting hit with a blast of artillery, is carrying his musket at shoulder-arms - but with the hammer at full cock. Not good. Dangerous and not regulation by any means.

A moment after that scene, a Union soldier is prominently featured wearing what appears to be a Hardee-style hat. On the front of his hat is pinned a brass insignia. Is it the familiar bugle? Nope. Perhaps the "US" insignia? Wrong again. Maybe his unit designation? Nuh-uh. On the hat can be seen the crossed rifles insignia. Not bad, if you ignore the well-known fact that the Army didn't begin using that particular insignia until 1875, ten full years after the end of the Civil War. During the Civil War, such an insignia hadn't even been imagined yet.

Another scene that just about everyone has been mentioning is the scene in which a Confederate soldier is seen climbing over a post-and-rail fence (perhaps the Emmitsburg Road fence during Pickett's Charge?) carrying the iconic Rebel battle flag. It's flapping in the humid breeze in all of its rectangular-shaped glory. So what's wrong with that, you say. Nothing, except for the fact that just about everyone who is well-versed in Gettysburg fact knows that the rectangular version of the flag was not carried or used by the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. The square version, yes ("the" battle flag). The rectangular version is the Second Confederate Navy Jack.

In a different, first trailer released by History, Union soldiers are seen jumping over what appears to be a poured concrete wall. What, at the historical battle, such a wall is intended to portray I haven't a clue. Hardee-style hats can also been seen with the incorrect side pinned-up.

These obvious inaccuracies can be seen in just the couple minutes of trailers, leading one to wonder what will be noted during the two hours of the full showing. Granted, folks with little or only a casual interest/knowledge of the Civil War or Gettysburg in particular will never notice such boo-boos. But for those who have noticed them, and roundly criticized them, the inaccuracies are leading to a couple questions: first, what (if any) historical consultants have been used for the production; and second, were actual reenactors used for the show?

The production is advertised as being made "in cooperation" with "several prominent Gettysburg historians." Their names, however, don't seem to be listed anywhere, and my search for them has turned up nothing. We may not know who these "historians" are until the credits roll at the end of the show. To be fair to whomever they may be, it could be that such historians were not consulted in the scenes that show the listed historical inaccuracies. Any historian of the period would assumedly have picked them out and corrected them pretty quickly.

The question about actual reenactors perhaps gets more the heart of the controversy. Say what you will about them (I am a reenactor in addition to an author/historian), nearly any Confederate reenactor who has been in the "hobby" for any decent length of time would know that the rectangular, Navy Jack battle flag would never be carried during any depiction involving Gettysburg. And any Union reenactor worth his salt (salt pork?) would know in a millisecond that the crossed-rifles insignia is incorrect for the period. You only see such insignia on those Chinese-made crappy children's kepis that are sold in stores geared for tourists (the ones beside the plastic rifles with rubber bayonets). And even the least experienced reenactor knows better than to march in column, at shoulder arms, with his musket on full cock.

That is why everyone is assuming that very few or no actual reenactors were used during the filming. It is being assumed, because of what is seen in these trailers, that volunteers or actors with no reenacting experienced were dressed up in uniforms and given their respective roles.

Because of the high and impressive production values that a team like the Scotts obviously bring to the show, one hopes that the accuracy will also be high. Over the past few years, we buffs, historians, and afficianados have had to suffer through some really lousy Gettysburg and Civil War productions. One that quickly comes to mind is the Military Channel's absolute dog of a show Gettysburg: The Battle That Changed America. This hour-long, painfully and horribly inaccurate drivel pops up every now and again, forcing folks who know anything about Gettysburg to resist the temptation to draw a nice warm bath and open up their veins. During just the first couple minutes of this festering pile of ridiculousness, the battle of Gettysburg supposedly opened when a small Confederate unit, minding their own business as they walked along a road near the town, were ambushed and fired upon by Federal infantry. And the Confederate infantry that opened the battle is purported to be that of Richard Ewell's Corps. It actually gets worse after that. The principal historical consultant on the show was reportedly Tom Carhart, which actually explains a great deal. Carhart knows so little about the facts of Gettysburg, I'm not sure that he even knows in which state it took place. His fictional fantasy about Gettysburg Lost Triumph - Lee's Real Plan at Gettysburg and Why It Failed tries to be a non-fiction work but does not rise to the challenge. Where there are no supporting facts, Carhart simply fabricates them, and apparently he did the same for the Military Channel show. I've always felt that if the CIA wanted to interrogate me, they needn't resort to waterboarding; just the mere threat of making me watch that show again would crack me like a songbird.

Back to History's Gettysburg. I join those who say that regardless of the obvious inaccuracies seen in the trailers, with the expectation of many more to be seen, if the high production values and captivating presentation brings many to want to study the battle, the war and the period, then it will have value. When inaccuracies are shown and become engrained in the audience's perceptions, however, it sets back the clock of teaching true history a couple decades or more. I don't think those silly crossed-rifles insignias will start showing up at reenactments, and soldiers won't begin thinking it's proper to march in formation at full-cock, but when these issues come up they will provide teaching moments. Sure, visitors to Little Round Top still ask rangers and Guides why Buster Kilrain's name isn't on the 20th Maine's monument, but in the grand scheme of things little harm is done by relatively minor historical boo-boos and dramatic license. If we can bring more folks to want to learn history - especially our children - then we work to explain the errors and move on to what's important. History. Real history.

I applaud the History channel for bringing this production to what promises to be a wide audience. Yes, I may be wincing every few minutes at something I see, and even watching with one eye closed at times, but unless we can ever actually take our cameras back in a time machine to 150 years ago, it'll never be perfect. Based on what we've seen lately, maybe for now it's just enough to hope that what we start seeing is better than what we've been getting.

Oh, did I address the modern rock music that accompanies the trailers? Let's leave that subject for my post-show review...

UPDATE: As seen in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, above is a screen shot of a soldier from the show. Note the Hardee hat with the wrong side pinned up. And the crossed rifles insignia on the front of it. Oy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

"To Appomattox" mini-series

By now, probably many of you have heard of the Civil War mini-series that's in the works, titled "To Appomattox" (click the title for the project's official website). Written by Michael Frost Beckner (pictured below, well-known for his work in TV and film such as the CSI TV series and the Sniper and Spygame films), the 8-part series follows certain main characters throughout the war and after. Characters include Grant, Sherman, Lee and Longstreet.

I have been very honored the past couple weeks to be assisting Michael as the Historical Advisor, working on historical details and interpretations in the script. Several other authors and historians have been assisting with the project since Michael conceived it nine years ago. As I read through the scripts of each episode, I can tell that Michael has done his homework. In fact, he just called me this afternoon and we spoke for nearly an hour - Michael is a life-long history/Civil War buff and it's obvious that he's very excited to see this project nearing fruition. I can tell that he knows these characters extremely well. I can envision their portrayals on the screen, and I believe Michael is spot-on with their characterizations and personalities. There are no caricatures here. All of the portrayals are very fair and believable, historically accurate and plausible, and historians will be very pleased.

Casting thus far is very exciting. You'll see on the project website that a lot of well-known actors and actresses are on board, such as William Petersen, Michael C. Hall, Paul Giamatti, Will Patton, Bill Paxton, Laura Bell Bundy - and talks are proceeding with other famous actors that will be revealed once they sign their deals. The band Rascal Flatts (one of my and my wife's favorites!) is doing the musical score, and each of them also has a role in the series.

This is the first year of the war's sesquicentennial, of course, and projects about the war and the period are more popular than ever. Besides the number of TV shows showing lately on channels such as History and HBO, movies like the recent "Conspirator" are opening to large audiences. More are coming, too. And I think "To Appomattox" will be extremely popular and critically acclaimed, because Michael is doing it right - he is staying true and faithful to the historical figures, while the dramatic atmosphere is very touching, moving, powerful, and plausible.

Michael is still in negotiations for a network (many are assuming HBO but that's not a given). Several networks are currently very interested in the project.

I'm extremely honored to be assisting Michael with the script and historical details, and I look forward to being involved as the project develops along with other historians. This is truly one to look forward to.

UPDATE: A page of the historical consultants has gone up on the website - see it HERE.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

WPRR Radio Interview April 19

This coming Tuesday, April 19 at 10:35 am I have a radio interview on WPRR's show "Tuesdays with Tormala." I'm grateful to my publicist at Savas Beatie, Sarah Keeney, for setting up the interview. Click the link below to listen live, and you can also listen to it anytime once it's in the station's archives:

I'm looking forward to the interview - Rick Tormala is an impressive guy with quite a political track record. We will be discussing general Civil War Topics such as events leading to the war, causes of the war, and why the Union won.

UPDATE: The link to listen to the April 19 show is now on the site, and my interview begins about 32 minutes into the show (you can skip ahead to it if you wish).

Friday, March 25, 2011

The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook is at the printer

Yesterday, our publisher Savas Beatie LLC sent the new book by myself and Steve Stanley to the printer. Titled The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook, it is the newest in the "Handbook" series by Savas Beatie. Steve completely designed the book - it's entirely in full color and features more than a dozen of his beautiful battle maps, and modern and historic photographs of the entire Gettysburg Campaign. The centerpiece of the book is a photographic study of the campaign from the Battle of Brandy Station (June 9, 1863) through the escape of Lee's army across the Potomac (July 14, 1863). We have also compiled the most complete and accurate Gettysburg Order of Battle to be found anywhere - which we hope will be a useful resource for everyone. In addition, there is a section of campaign trivia, quotes, personalities, Medal of Honor awardees, and a discussion of the major controversies and myths of the battle. And there's much more including a suggested reading list by category, and recommended websites.

All of the page backgrounds of the book are actual paper images taken from Jedediah Hotchkiss' map book - which makes for a stunning look! We hope that this handbook will appeal to readers and students of all ages and knowledge levels - folks new to the battle and campaign will receive a great introduction to it herein, and there's lots of information for even the most diehard Gettysburg scholar.

The book should be available by late May. We'll soon have a website available to purchase a personally inscribed and signed copy, and the book should also be on Amazon within a couple weeks or so.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Plenty of Blame To Go Around" in paperback June 2011

Eric Wittenberg and I were just informed by our publisher, Savas Beatie LLC, that our first book together Plenty of Blame To Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg will be out in paperback this coming June. This book appeared in 2006, and is a comprehensive narrative of Confederate cavalry commander Jeb Stuart's ride to Pennsylvania with three of his brigades. We begin just after the battle of Brandy Station, detail the orders and planning that went into the ride, and then narrate the ensuing eight days of the cavalry's exploits from Virginia through Maryland and then to Gettysburg. Stuart got into several scraps along the way, including the capture of the Federal supply train at Rockville, a nasty skirmish at Westminster, an all-day brawl at Hanover, and then Wade Hampton's fight against Judson Kilpatrick at Hunterstown on July 2.

We're very excited to see this volume come to paperback, just as our second book One Continuous Fight (about the retreat from Gettysburg and the companion volume) did about a month ago. Paperback volumes reach a wider audience, and it also gives us the opportunity to make a couple minor tweaks to the original issue. We found a couple interesting tidbits recently that add to the interpretation of the fight at Westminster, for instance, and we're able now to work in a few sentences of the additional information.

If you've been waiting for this book to come out in softcover, this summer will be your chance to pick it up.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Very nice honor - and two new books!

Steve Stanley and I were very humbled recently when we were informed that our The Complete Gettysburg Guide was placed on the Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides' list of "Recommended Reading" for the Guide exam last year. We're very honored that a prestigious group such as the Guides feel that our book provides helpful information to candidates.

Right now, Steve and I are hard at work on our next two books for Savas Beatie (hence the paucity of blog posts the past few weeks). Both of the books should be out in May. The first is The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook, which is in the series of handbooks that Savas Beatie has been producing. Ted Savas and J. David Dameron produced a volume on the Revolutionary War, and Mark Hughes wrote the volume that covers the Civil War. Our volume features lots of campaign statistics, biographies, interesting facts, a discussion of controversies, and the most accurate and updated comprehensive Order of Battle for Gettysburg. The books features maps and design by Steve - each page and each map is in full color! For the background of each page, in fact, Steve has used a page from one of Jedediah Hotchkiss' map pages. The look is simply stunning. Each page is heavy, glossy stock.

The second book, which we're writing concurrently, is an expansion of those Orders of Battle - hopefully a resource that everyone will find useful - Orders for nearly every conflict of the entire campaign! Tentatively titled The Complete Gettysburg Campaign Orders of Battle and Numbers and Losses, it lists Orders for every single conflict during the campaign, and includes all strength and casualty figures for each. Each Order is introduced with a narrative that explains the conflict, and places it in context with the rest of the campaign. Again, Steve is doing the complete design of the book for Savas Beatie. Every single page is in full color on heavy, glossy paper that will last a lifetime.

Much more on these new books to come. Please stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Compounding a fraud

By now, many or most of my readers, I'm sure, have read of the scandal surrounding Lincoln historian Thomas P. Lowry. There are several online articles detailing how Lowry admitted, earlier this month, to falsifying a date on an Abraham Lincoln soldier pardon in the National Archives from 1864 to 1865. Lowry was able to claim, therefore, that the pardon "dated" the day of his assassination was likely one of the president's last official acts. The "find" garnered recognition for Lowry, elevating his status, and was hailed by the National Archives as an important Lincoln find. Rather than further detailing the sordid affair, you can read about the subsequent revelations here:

Saratosa Herald Tribune
Washington Examiner

A Google search of Lowry's name is starting to show several hundred newspaper articles that have picked up the story.

The National Archives has also released a video detailing the crime, which can be viewed here:

National Archives Video

Lowry, according to the articles, is now compounding his crime by blaming others. Even though Archives officials have a hand-written, signed confession to the deed by Lowry, he is claiming that he only wrote and signed it so that the investigators would "leave him alone" and that an Archives staffer likely changed the date. The statue of limitations on the crime (seemingly done in 1998) has run out, so besides the fact that Lowry's claims seem on the surface to be an obvious bald-face lie, it needs to be explained how Lowry could claim that he was "coerced" into signing the confession. So he's blaming Archive investigators, Archive staff, and even to a certain degree his own wife Beverly, who he claims originally found the pardon.

In his confession, the Archives state, Lowry snuck a quill-style pen into the reading room one day in 1998, took out the pardon, and after somehow slightly erasing Lincoln's own hand-written date of 1864 and changed the 4 to a 5. Lowry further states that he changed the date to that of Lincoln's assassination so that he would be recognized and lauded for finding what would seem to be an unusually historically significant document. Lowry based much of his resulting book, "Don't Shoot That Boy," on the document. As a result, he was able to secure publishing contracts for futher books, get numerous speaking engagements, and even a History Channel show based on the book in which he was the main talking head.

As my friend Eric Wittenberg states, it is hoped that Lowry's actions for his 15 minutes of fame have turned out to be worth it. Eric and many other fellow bloggers have picked up and commented on this tragic story. In addition, Facebook and chat boards are burning as the story circulates.

I spoke with Eric and other fellow historians and authors on the phone yesterday and last night, and the common thread in our conversations was how horrified we were by Lowry's actions and subsequent denials, but also by how out of character it is for the vast majority of historians. I have been fortunate to handle historic documents in my research - never a Lincoln-signed document however - and I have always been in awe of them. When I've been able to hold a document written/signed by Civil War icons such as Lee, Grant, Chamberlain, etc. and the hundreds of letters and diaries by the grunt soldier, it never fails that the hair goes up on the back of my neck. Lowry's crime has left a stain on the historical community and on all of us, because his utter lack of respect for the historical record is simply unfathomable.

Besides the respect that is owed by anyone who handles such documents of historic significance, we as historians/authors owe it to our readers, and the historic record itself, a high standard that can never be compromised or taken for granted. All of us historians and authors are sickened by this event, perhaps even moreso than in the cases were people have stolen items from the Archives or have been found guilty of plagiarism. All are reprehensible, but Lowry's actions are the worst of the worst. And all in the name of recognition and the building of a false career.

Rather than keep up his ploy of deny and divert, we can only hope that Lowry comes to his senses and reclaims a sliver of his dignity by admitting to his deed. He can't be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations - his prosecution has come from the historical community - but most folks are willing to give a measure of forgiveness to those who repent. Lowry has shown that such forgiveness has no importance to him, as little importance as he showed to the Lincoln pardon by altering it.

Lowry has spent his 15 minutes. And he's spent any amount of respect and forgiveness by blaming everyone but himself. Lincoln is recorded as having said, "History is only history if it is the truth."

Perhaps in his studies Lowry has seen that statement, and perhaps one day he will actually take it to heart.