Category Archives: Documenting America

“Documenting America: Civil War Edition” is published

 

The temporary cover is almost exactly like the one I ended up using.
The temporary cover is almost exactly like the one I ended up using.

Making an extra post this week to announce that Documenting America: Civil War Edition is published. Over the weekend I got a lot of the work done that I described in a prior post. But, I mostly worked on the print version. On Tuesday evening, I sat in The Dungeon with the intent of getting a start on the two e-book versions. That work went well, much better than I expected. In less than an hour I had the Kindle version ready to go. So I went ahead and uploaded it.

 

Normally I would wait until the next day to mess with the Smashwords edition, mainly to keep from feeling overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done. However, I went ahead with it, and, lo and behold, I got that done in less than 30 minutes and uploaded. By the next morning, I had messages that the Kindle upload was successful, but the Smashwords upload wasn’t. Something I had done with the formatting was supported by Kindle but not by Smashwords. Last night I got it corrected and uploaded, and I’m waiting to hear if it will go live today.

On Kindle, I had two sales yesterday. That’s a good start. Those two sales place it at #35 in one of its subcategories. One or two more sales today and it might make it to the front page of the category bestseller list. That could get me excited.

Small version to link to
Small version to link to

Almost There With My Newest Book

At the Pea Ridge National Military Park, canon are placed strategically, near where actual fighting took place.
At the Pea Ridge National Military Park, canon are placed strategically, near where actual fighting took place.

Yes, I’m almost there.

On Friday, I went to The Dungeon after supper and worked on formatting Documenting America: Civil War Edition for print. I finished it in an hour and a half. That is, I think I finished it. I still will proofread it. And I haven’t created the PDF file yet. But it’s there, on the computer, ready to go. In less time than I expected.

On Saturday, in the afternoon after a busy day of yard work, house work, and grocery shopping, I again went to The Dungeon, to see if I had enough energy to tackle the two e-book versions. Following the procedures I outlined in my previous blog post, I got started, one step at a time. I stripped out the headers and footers. I already had bookmarks at each chapter, so only had to put hyperlinks in the Table Of Contents. Got that done. Then put a link at the end of each chapter back to the TOC. That’s probably not necessary, but I did it. Then I saved it as both Kindle and Smashwords files, and did the final couple of touches each of these need.

That brought me to about 6:30 p.m. I had a meatloaf on, due to come out, so I left my documents. I think, however, they are done. All except for the covers, and the acknowledgement about who did the covers and took the cover photos.

The Elkhorn Tavern was a strategic objective during the two day battle, which involved close to 30,000 combatants.
The Elkhorn Tavern was a strategic objective during the two day battle, which involved close to 30,000 combatants.

Sunday afternoon, my wife and I took a drive to the Pea Ridge National Military Park, about 25 miles from us. We’ve driven by it many times over the years as we head to Ozark destinations east of us, but haven’t actually been in the park since around 1995. I won’t go into a lot of detail on the park, or on the battle. I don’t cover this battle in my book, but this is the closest Civil War site to us, and, based on my vague memory of past visits there, knew I would have places to take photos.

We spent an hour or so there, in the visitors center, then driving the loop through the park. I got a lot of photos, the best of which, and the ones I’ll likely use on the cover, are here in this post. I will likely begin working on the covers tonight: the e-book cover for sure, and the print book cover once that’s done. One problem I have is I may not have an editable file of the original print cover. I’ll have to look around on my old computer. My son did the e-book cover for me, and a woman at our church, who does graphic design, took that and made the print cover from it. If I find it, it will either be a PDF or, possibly, a Photoshop file. If the first, I might be able to load it into G.I.M.P. and do the necessary edits. If the latter, I’m not sure G.I.M. P. can use it.

The Elkhorn Tavern has been restored to the condition it was in in 1862. The inside can't be accessed at present.
The Elkhorn Tavern has been restored to the condition it was in in 1862. The inside can’t be accessed at present.

And, of course, I’m not even sure I have the necessary skills to get this done. I’m going to try, but we’ll see. I may need outside help on the print cover. So, it’s down to the covers, and the acknowledgement of the cover on the copyright page. Get those done, and uploaded to the three sites, and it’s published. Oh, yeah, still have back cover copy to write, along with the description to put on the websites. So, a couple of days, most likely, to first publication.

Meanwhile, I promised to post about the awakening of the gray cells. That will have to wait till Friday.

The Gray Cells Are Activating

Mathew Brady did such a good job of capturing the Civil War in photos.
Mathew Brady did such a good job of capturing the Civil War in photos.

I’m in a bit of a slow period right now. Documenting America: Civil War Edition, is done. That is, the writing and editing of the master document are done. Today at noon, I went through my last mark-up of the manuscript, to see if I missed anything. I hadn’t. I thought I made a couple of notations where I wanted to add a couple of sentences, or perhaps paragraphs, but nothing showed on the manuscript. Apparently, such things were on my mind when I last read it, but I didn’t mark them on paper. Now, to re-read the entire work to find them seems too daunting to me. No, it will go to publication just as it is.

So what’s left? I need to create, from the master file, three separate files: one for Kindle, one for Smashwords, and one for CreateSpace (the print edition). I believe I will start to do that tonight. I could have done that anytime in the last week, but I wanted to wait for that one last flip through the marked-up manuscript. That now done, I’m ready to go on.

But, I’m really not ready. For some reason, the shift from writing to publishing tasks always seems to be a roadblock to me. I’d love to be able to turn this over to someone, pay them to do it. Alas, I don’t make enough on sales to afford that, so I won’t.

Cover - Corrected 2011-06What’s involved with publishing, you ask, that’s so daunting? To each of the three publishing files, I have to add a Table Of Contents. I don’t need to do this for fiction, but for a non-fiction work such as this I do. For the print version, that means inserting bookmarks in the text and cross-references to the bookmarks in the TOC. It’s not hard; just feels like busywork. For the e-book files, I have to add hyperlinks in the TOC to the beginning of each chapter, having first inserted bookmarks there, and then add hyperlinks at the end of each chapter back to the TOC, after first having inserted a bookmark there. Again, it’s not all that hard, but feels like busy work.

Next is putting information on the copyright page. It varies slightly for the three different versions. Next is adding a list of my published works to each version. For the print book, this goes in front, on the back of the half-title page (something you don’t use in an e-book). For the e-books it goes in back. And, for each version, it’s different since the list is really links to sales pages: Kindle links for the Kindle version, Smashwords links for that version. I have master files of these links on my computer at home, and can just insert them into the publication files. Normally I have to do a minor update to each file to add whatever my most previous publication was.

That gets me up to the cover. Sometimes I have another person help me with it, or even do the cover for me. This time, however, I’m determined to do make the cover myself. The cover of Documenting America: Lessons From the United States’ Historical Documents, established a series theme, a theme I like. I suppose it could be called a series brand. I’m going to use that theme, changing the text just a little, and superimposing a Civil War era photo over the old document text, leaving some of the text showing around the outside. This, I think, is something I can do, both for the e-books and the print book.

Print book covers are harder, because you have to have dimensions matched to the print size of the book. So, before I do the print cover, I’ll have to re-format the print publication file to the right size page, adjust the margins to a proper size for the smaller page, and check to make sure headers/footers are correct, and there’s no stray blank pages I don’t want. I then will know the thickness of the print book, and can finalize the cover.

Oh, yeah, at this point I also need to strip the headers/footers out of the e-book files. Running headers/footers have no meaning on an e-book, which has free-flowing text.

This isn't the cover—just a temporary mock-up graphic for this post. the final may be close to this, or somewhat different.
This isn’t the cover—just a temporary mock-up graphic for this post. the final may be close to this, or somewhat different.

A final step for the print book cover is to write some back cover copy. I don’t know that I do a very good job on this. How do you condense your 70,000 word book into a couple of paragraphs? Or, rather than condensing, what do you write that will make people take notice and want to read the book? Once I figure that out, I might get more sales.

Then, and only then, do I get to upload the three files to their respective sites. Actually, the e-book steps will most likely come together quicker, and I’ll have them done about a week before I have the print book done. I struggle with graphic arts software so much, that could actually take longer than a week.

But this post was supposed to be about gray cells starting to be activated. By that, I meant that ideas for specifics in the next book are starting to flow. However, since publishing tasks took me so many words to describe, I’ll have to save more on the gray cells for another time.

The Last 5 percent of this Book Eludes Me

This isn't the cover—just a temporary mock-up graphic for this post.
This isn’t the cover—just a temporary mock-up graphic for this post.

That’s about all that’s left to be done on my current book: 5 percent.

Even less, in fact. I’ve completed three rounds of edits. I heard back from my beta reader. I brainstormed the cover and think I can pull it off on my own. I’ve even set up a mock paperback edition, so I would know how big it would be.

All that’s left is for me to find two or three hours of computer time to type the edits and do some last minute formatting changes. But, since I got home from vacation last Saturday, that time hasn’t materialized. Saturday and Sunday were mostly taken up with the return home and continuing to help with the grandkids. They left Sunday evening. For that evening and until I went back to work Wednesday morning, I completed my reading of the manuscript and marking edits. I did find about an hour of computer time to type some of those edits, but have much more to go.

Wednesday afternoon, I had a wisdom tooth pulled. The reasons why would take too long to explain. I figured I’d be up to some computer time that evening. I was wrong. I really didn’t feel like doing anything, so be watched a bunch of episodes of The West Wing, season five. That’s where we left off three or four years ago, and we wanted to finish the series. That continued Thursday evening, and I suspect it will continue this evening. We have several more discs/episodes to go. Still, it would be nice to get at least an hour of typing done tonight. I’m planning on it.

Just looking at this photo, is it any wonder I left writing for a while? Elise, posing as a Chines opera performer, at the Indianapolis Children's Museum.
Just looking at this photo, is it any wonder I left writing for a while? Elise, posing as a Chines opera performer, at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.

That’s one of the beauties of self-publishing. Deadlines are self-imposed. So if Life prevents you from meeting a deadline, no one is waiting for you. Just reschedule and go on. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m sure that, between Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I’ll find enough time to type all my edits. I also have three places marked where I think it would be good to add a little more narrative. I don’t know that those places are critical, but, as I read through this last time, I thought more narrative would be beneficial. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find those pages again as I flip through the manuscript.

I was quite pleased with the comments my beta reader made. He’s a fellow writer who has a great interest in history, especially in the Civil War. Like me, he’s a northerner who spent most of his adult life living and working in the South, more years than me, actually. He confirmed to me that my goals for the book had been met, in that I:

  • was informative
  • brought out facts not commonly known
  • had a good mix of documents to be examined
  • struck a good balance between Northern and Southern interests as they were expressed at the time of the war
  • correctly showed slavery was the main reason for the war
  • didn’t gloss over Southern interests other than slavery
  • and did a good job linking the issues then to issues we face today.

That’s exactly what I’m hoping for this book, and for the series, so I’m glad for those comments.

Now, on to typing! On to publishing! I might yet get this done in July.

A Gettysburg Item Not Mentioned

As I mentioned in a couple of prior posts, I recently finished a book about General Robert E. Lee’s Gettysburg campaign. In that book, Last Chance For Victory, the authors speak much about the second day of the battle. The first day was also covered extensively, though the third somewhat less than the first two. On the first day, the Confederate army and the Union army met almost accidentally at Gettysburg. A major clash wasn’t expected quite that soon by Lee. So the ebb and flow of the battle had to do with standing orders for both sides, and with soldiery and generalship, and less to do with strategy.

Lee's gamble of marching north, to take the pressure off Virginia, and to force the North to end the war, didn't pay off. This book suggests it came very, very close.
Lee’s gamble of marching north, to take the pressure off Virginia, and to force the North to end the war, didn’t pay off. This book suggests it came very, very close.

But, on the second day, it was all about strategy and tactics. So say Bowden and Ward, the authors of LCFV. Lee spent much of the night of July 1-2 working on his strategy, even before he knew for sure what the Federal positions were and which of his own forces would be available for battle. He consulted with his corps commanders: Longstreet, Hill, and Ewell. They had ideas of what to do, especially Longstreet. Lee considered that, then set a plan for a frontal attack from the west against Cemetery Ridge, held by the Union. A “demonstration” in force by Ewell’s corps from the north was also part of it, which Lee meant to develop into a full attack, depending on how the Union reacted. These plans took most of the morning to prepare, and were to launch in the early afternoon.

But, when Lee and others made a final check of the front. It was discovered that General Sickles, a corps commander for the Union, had moved his corps down Cemetery Ridge into a forward position along the Emmitsburg Road, over a mile closer to the Confederates. And, his new line had a “kink” in it; it wasn’t a nice straight line as armies are used to forming. It also left the Union susceptible to flanking movements, either around Sickles to the south or between Sickles and the next corps, commanded by General Hancock.

Bowden and Ward say this was a stupid move on Sickles’ part. This is echoed in other accounts that I’ve read, limited as they are. Sickles was too exposed, his new line too hard to defend. Yes, it was a stupid. The results of the battle “prove” this true. Sickles’ corps was decimated by Lee’s attack. They fell back—the ones that weren’t killed, injured or captured. That stupid Sickles cost the Union a functioning corps.

Except, because of Sickles’ move, Lee changed his battle plan. Instead of a full, frontal attack simultaneously by two corps, he went with an en echelon attack, that is, an attack that progressed from one end of the line to the other, not simultaneously, but sequentially, division by division or brigade by brigade. This took an hour or so to put together and issue new orders. Thus, the Confederate attack didn’t kick off until about 4:00 in the afternoon. It went well, but fell apart as dark was approaching, giving Lee no time to take corrective action.

So Sickles’ move cost the South about an hour of battle daylight. Lee famously said that they needed another half hour to make the attack successful. Why didn’t he have the time he needed? Because of Sickles’ move. So, even though his corps took heavy, heavy casualties, wasn’t his move what saved the day for the Union?

Bowden and Ward didn’t discuss the time factor, the time Sickles’ took away from Lee by changing his position. Yes, his casualties were heavy, but it seems to me it was the key move by either army in the whole sequence of the three-day battle. While Lee was adjusting his strategy and orders, the Federal army was able to bring up more troops that were arriving, and make other adjustments. Also, troops badly beaten the previous day had an extra hour to get their act together. Many were still not battle-worthy, but with an extra hour of rest, and time for their officers to rally them, they had to be in better shape at 4:00 p.m. than they would have been at 2:00 p.m., when the battle might have kicked off according to Lee’s original plan.

So, was Sickles’ move folly, or genius? Everything I’ve read says it was folly. Is their no one among the battle’s historians who see this as a good move—a costly move, but a good one in that it bought time, time that the Union desperately needed. Who am I to question military historians, a novice such as I am?

I have much more reading to do on this to know for sure. And, I don’t know that that time will ever present itself for me to be able to do this. I hope, some year, I’ll get to read more on it, and maybe write something from more knowledge.

Book Review: Last Chance For Victory

For research purposes, I picked up a used copy of Last Chance For Victory. The subtitle is Robert E. Lee and the Gettysburg Campaign. The authors are Scott Bowden and Bill Ward. Bowden has written many books on military issues, especially the Napoleonic wars. I didn’t check into Ward’s credentials.

Lee was a professional soldier, who fought for the honor of his state. But since the cause he fought for was so wrong, his legend will always be tained.
Lee was a professional soldier, who fought for the honor of his state. But since the cause he fought for was so wrong, his legend will always be tained.

I began reading this sometime in 2014, when I began writing my book Documenting America: Civil War Edition. As I said in a prior post, I knew I would be including a chapter on Gettysburg, so I thought this would be good research for me. The paperback copy I read is 529 pages long, not including one tabular appendix, but including the many, many pages of end notes for each chapter. I read the first five chapters (221 pages) back then, then put it aside when I put my book aside. But, this April, I went back to work on my book, so went back to reading LCFV, in early May. I think I remembered the gist of what I’d read three years ago.

This is a very good book. Bowden and Ward make a good case that Lee handled himself very well in the Gettysburg campaign, from recognizing the strategic need for it, to planning it, to executing it. Yes, the Confederacy lost this battle, but not because of Lee, they say. In their last chapter, they list 17 causes for the Confederate loss. A couple of them were things that the Union did, or their generals did. Except for that, the authors missed no opportunity to show their disdain of the Northern soldier and his generals. Concerning Lee, they listed only two faults:

  1. failure to keep a large enough headquarters staff to do all that a commanding general needed done; and
  2. failure to take tactical control on the third day of the battle, when it was obvious that two of his three corps commanders (and, they actually make a case for all three) failed to execute Lee’s orders, either to the level of incompetence or insubordination. Even the oft-praised General Longstreet came in for harsh criticism for his performance on the third day of the battle.

Everything else, Lee did flawlessly. That cavalry general Jeb Stuart misread Lee’s orders and went gallivanting in Pennsylvania, far enough from where Lee concentrated his army to be absent the first two days and ineffective the third day was Stuart’s fault, not Lee’s. They go into great lengths on this. Their arguments are fairly convincing. It appears Stuart didn’t follow orders, though I can see some ambiguity in the orders. That Ewell’s corps didn’t take Culp Hill on the first day was Ewell’s fault for over-emphasizing the words “if practicable” in the order. On this, I think Bowden and Ward have good grounds for criticism of General Ewell. Many military victories (so I’ve read) have happened when a field commander took the initiative and fought for and took the hill, then held it until reinforcements arrived.

But, they don’t find fault with Lee for failing to come to the front lines on the second day, when the en echelon attack was in progress, and kick his corps commanders in their sorry rear ends and get their divisions and brigades into the action as they’d been ordered to do. Instead, Lee stayed in his headquarters, watching or receiving reports on the action. If he had just taken one of General Hill’s divisions and shoved them to the front, the entire battle would have been different. Maybe.

I have a couple of criticisms of the book. The main one is that the authors fixate on a point and beat it to death. The en echelon attack is the main one, along with the failures of Ewell, Hill, Stuart, and to a lesser extent Longstreet. These were covered in the chapter of that part of the battle, then mentioned in the next chapter, the next chapter, and left beaten to death in the summary. They could have done with much less of this, either covering other things, or making the book shorter. I also found a few more typos than I would have liked. One map for the action on July 1 was labeled as for July 2. But, overall, I would say the typos didn’t bother me.

The comments on Amazon indicate this book is controversial, in that it gives too much credit to Lee, overlooks some of his shortcomings, and fails to say that the Union army and generals had something to do with the Confederacy losing. Since this is my first book to read on Gettysburg, I really can’t say much to that. For sure it is highly favorable to Lee. Whether he deserved those laurels for this battle, someone else will have to determine.

I bought this book for a whopping $0.50, probably at a thrift store. I don’t know that I’ll ever read it again. If I read more on Gettysburg it will be other books. But, for now, I’ll keep it as a reference book. I might have to refer to it again.

Back to Editing

Tuesday evening I went back to editing on my book Documenting America: Civil War Edition. I finished the first round of edits about ten days ago, and decided to let it sit awhile, to give me a fresh perspective. That time passed, and so I decided it was time to edit. I have the book out with a beta reader, who I told not to hurry on it, as I wouldn’t be publishing it till sometime in July.

This isn't the cover—just a temporary mock-up graphic for this post.
This isn’t the cover—just a temporary mock-up graphic for this post.

As I looked at the book, I decided to take a slightly different approach to this round of edits. Each chapter is organized like this. It’s built around an historical document from the Civil War era. I write a lead-in paragraph, briefly setting the scene. The original document comes next, usually heavily edited down to a reasonable amount to read. After the document comes two pieces of my writing, which together are usually shorter than the document excerpt. In the first bit, I do a little explaining of the document or of the issues it is involved with. In the second bit I try to tie the document to an issue we are facing today. My purpose for that is to show that things may not have changed as much as we think they have.

During my first round of edits, I realized that the early chapters, which were written in 2014, and the later chapters, written in 2017, had significant differences between them. The 2014 chapters make reference to world events that were hot topics then, but which, to some extent, have faded from the front pages. The 2017 chapters make appropriate references to current world events.

But, does this not show a weakness in the book? If I refer to events that don’t seem as important now as they seemed in 2014, maybe they really aren’t worth mentioning at all. I need to think about this.

So, to bet back to my editing approach. I decided in this round of edits I would just read the words I wrote, not the documents I edited. That way I get through them a whole lot faster. In three days I read and edited my words in 17 chapters. Only 12 to go, so I should finish those by Sunday.

I’m hoping that reading these parts close together, and quickly, will give me greater insight into what changes I should make, if any. It may be that I’ll leave it about as is, and add some explanation in the Introduction about the times of writing.

Either way, I’ll finish it by Sunday, then do another read-through of the excerpted documents, and see if there’s anything else I can cut for readability while not destroying the integrity of what the document says.

A Whole Lot To Do

Well, I just finished the typical busy weekend. Yard work wasn’t too bad. I cleared the last of the leaves away from the backyard. With grandkids to visit soon, I wanted one less place for snakes to hide. Next weekend I’ll take the leaf blower and clear the stragglers out. In the front yard I sprayed for weeds, and picked up sticks. That’s a never-ending task, as the three large trees in the front yard like to keep me busy.

We made the usual shopping run. My wife came too this week, as she’s wanting to do some new things in the kitchen and wanted to make sure the grocery cart was properly filled. She also bought some herbs to plant, and some larger tomato plants. That will be work for this week.

The waterline in our street was leaking, we noticed when we came back from the store. I could see that it had already been reported (based on markings on the pavement). The repair crew was there in an hour or two, tried the simple repair, which didn’t work, so had to shut the water off. We were without it for five hours, as it turned out to be a very bad line break. It was around 9 in the evening when we got it back. I spent the afternoon doing a lot of filing of financial papers, including culling some old files. The evening was mainly straightening some things up inside, and reading. Thus ended a full day.

Sunday was Life Group (I didn’t have to teach) and church. After lunch I walked 5K, in just over an hour. I felt okay about that, given the hills in our area. That afternoon, Lynda and I went to a couple of stores for some clothes purchases ahead of vacation. I found what I needed, but she didn’t. In the evening I got the checkbook entries up to date (still have to add it), but otherwise mainly read. It was a good way to wind down.

So here it is, Monday morning. Rather than have a sense of accomplishment for what I got done this weekend, I have a feeling of dread of all I have to do today and over the next couple of days. Here’s a partial list:

  • Lab work at the doctor’s office this morning
  • Call in prescriptions
  • Pay company credit card bill
  • Call the IRS about the letter I received from them this weekend, a non-so-good letter
  • Pay the last bill from my procedure in January
  • Double-check on our reservations for Branson, since I’ve never received the confirming e-mail
  • Plant the herbs; figure out a place for the tomatoes
  • Begin the many little things in the house needed to be done before guests come next weekend
  • Get by the store (probably tomorrow) to pick up the prescriptions along with diabetic supplies
  • Order the one item I couldn’t find at the store, and hope it comes within a week, which is when I need it by

That’s enough on the to-do list. I need to get a few of them done before I think through everything that needs to be done. Needless to say, writing is on hold for a while. I’m ready to do the next round of edits in Documenting America: Civil War Edition, but will wait a couple of days to do that. Plus, it’s out with a beta reader, and I’ll want to incorporate his comments when I next work on it. I won’t be messing with stock trading much this week, and maybe not next week either. I won’t be working on much else, writing-wise. The main pages on my website are in desperate need of an overhaul, but I don’t see me getting to that for about a month.

Life is busy. I guess that’s good, though I’d go for a little less busy right now, if I could.

Historical Conflict About the Battle of Gettysburg

Gettysburg, a three-day battle, was had the most casualties of any Civil War battle.
Gettysburg, a three-day battle, was had the most casualties of any Civil War battle.

As I wrote my Civil War history book, the battle of Gettysburg consumed one chapter. The documents I used were: a letter from Confederate General George Pickett to his wife after the battle; and the official battle report of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  I also read, about three years ago, part of a book titled Last Chance for Victory. This is written by two historians from Texas, who concentrated on the Confederate strategy and battle execution.

When I read this (well, part of this), I didn’t yet have my documents decided upon. I mainly read it to get an overview of the battle, about which I had known nothing, and to see what references the authors used, figuring it would be from among those references that I would select the source documents. That worked well, and I did get a fair number of suggestions for source documents.

Now, having finished the book, and having recently finished reading a different book, I decided to return to LCFV and finish it. I’m in the midst of it, having finished almost 400 pages, with another 200 or so to go.

Lee's gamble of marching north, to take the pressure off Virginia, and to force the North to end the war, didn't pay off. This book suggests it came very, very close.
Lee’s gamble of marching north, to take the pressure off Virginia, and to force the North to end the war, didn’t pay off. This book suggests it came very, very close.

I will eventually write a full review if it. But what I wanted to do with this post is talk about historical interpretation. As I’m reading LCFV, and not being a military tactics person, knowing relatively little about military strategy, and not being a military historian, I’m much dependent on what those more knowledgeable than me say. But, yesterday, I went to the Amazon listing for LCFV, and read through the 70-odd reviews, as well as the 50 or so comments on the reviews. I got an eyeful.

Many said the book was great, and it was about time an honest book had been written from the Southern perspective. Others, including some who appeared to be professional military historians, as well as guides at the Gettysburg National Military Park, took issue with LCFV, saying it whitewashed Lee’s mistakes in planning the battle, and in leading his subordinates on the execution. Wow. So many opinions, so little time to digest them.

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. Perhaps I’ll have to read more about Gettysburg (I have another book in-house). But I have no intention about becoming an expert on this battle, or any other battle. I want to know what happened. I want to direct my readers to some original source documents, and maybe spur them on to research in other source documents, and to draw conclusions for themselves.

I realize that isn’t going to happen a whole lot. People are content to read history books, where the author(s) mainly quotes snippets from the sources, tells the reader what he’s concluded, and suggests the reader does the same. I don’t want to do that with my books. I want to help the reader get an introduction to the many (thousands) of source documents, and hope they dig a little deeper into whatever part of the Civil War interests them.

That’s as much as I can hope for.

Thinking About Race Relations

At the spray park on Memorial Day, there was no black or white—only people having a good time.
At the spray park on Memorial Day, there was no black or white—only people having a good time.

This past weekend, a four-day weekend for me, we went to Oklahoma City to be with our daughter and her family. We had missed a birthday weekend for two grandchildren earlier in the month, so we sort of made up for it with this weekend. Our time was full of typical holiday weekend stuff. I even slept out in a tent in the backyard one night with the three older grandkids.

One bad things that happened: When I woke up from a Sunday afternoon nap, sitting in a chair on their patio, with my head back against a pillar, my knee was hurting really badly. No reason for it. I didn’t trip, didn’t wrench it. Within three days it was back to normal, which includes some underlying pain until I get it replaced. Very weird. That’s actually not part of the story, but I thought you might be interested.

The story is my observations at the local spray park on Memorial Day. This is a neat park, across the street from the grandkids elementary school. We got there around 10:30 in the morning. No other cars were there, and the water wasn’t going. I thought perhaps the park was closed. However, I soon found out you turn the water on by rubbing your hand over a sensor. The water runs on a timer, and must be restarted every five minutes or so. I thought that was nice, with no wasted water. That’s quite good.

Within 15 minutes, other cars began arriving. Within an hour, the parking lot was half full and the park was awash with kids, of all ages, having a great time with the different jets, with spray guns and water balloons. In the two hours we were there, I didn’t see anyone hurt. We left there with three happy, but tired, kids, and two tired adults.

That’s not much of a story, you say, not worthy of a blog post. No, but let me finish. On this weekend, for reading material, I brought the printed first-draft of my work-in-progress, Documenting America: Civil War Edition. I started reading/editing it Sunday afternoon. I made good progress despite my nap and my knee. I was reading chapters I’d written almost three years ago, chapters about the early days of the Civil War, when the Union and Confederacy were laying out their war aims. Soon I’ll be reading later chapters. In all of these, race is a factor.

Race, first as in slavery, then as in segregation, all with the belief that the black race was inferior to the white race, and thus bondage for them was the normal condition. Short of that, segregation was next best. As I wrote in the book, the source materials I had to go through to write this were painful to read, and painful to write about. We’ve sure come a long way as a nation. I’m not saying we’ve come as far as we should, or can, but I’m glad for what progress we have made.

Which brings me back to the spray park. We were the first family there that day. The second family was a black woman with four children. Later conversation revealed one was her child, three were nephews or nieces. The third and fourth families were black. The fifth family was white. After that I lost count, or rather didn’t bother to count, because I didn’t really care. I was so happy that the white and black race can mix like that. When the park was quite well populated, I’d say the races were pretty well balanced. No one seemed to care. Splash and play  feels about the same for whites as it does for blacks.

I thought of how fifty or sixty years ago, spray parks like this would have been segregated, and wouldn’t have been built in black neighborhoods at all. Yes, we have made progress.

I’ll get through this round of edits, print it again, and read it again. I’d say I’m a little more than a month away from having a finished book, ready for publication. The pain of reading the old, racist materials will pass. Hopefully the words I added to the source words will make a difference with someone, and will improve race relations just a little. That’s what I hope for.