Category Archives: Documenting America

Thoughts on the Removal of Confederate Monuments

The Confederate monument on the square in downtown Bentonville
The Confederate monument on the square in downtown Bentonville

Once again, removal of Confederate monuments, symbols, and references from the states that were part of the Confederacy is hot in the news, even in the city I work in, Bentonville, Arkansas. Actually, it’s not just the states of the Confederacy that have such monuments. The border states, the ones that were slave-holding but stayed in the Union, also have a fair number of Confederate monuments. And, a few such monuments exist in states that made up the Union side—not many, but a few.

In addition to monuments, you have: schools named for leaders of the Confederacy; military bases named for leaders of the Confederacy; US Navy ships named for leaders of the Confederacy; streets named for…you get the picture. These are everywhere, at the Federal, state, and local level.

It's hard to see, but behind the landscaping recently added, in big, bold letters is "CONFEDERATE"
It’s hard to see, but behind the landscaping recently added, in big, bold letters is “CONFEDERATE”

 

Should they be removed? And, if so, how far should you go? In the city of Lowell, Arkansas, which is in the county where I live and work, a street is named for William Henry Harrison, 9th president of the USA. At two city council meetings I attended in that city, during public comment time, a certain man stood up and demanded that the street be renamed, because Harrison was a slave owner (I got the impression this man did this in every city council meeting). Is that a good idea? If so, you should also rename streets named after George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, etc., who were also slave owners.

How this monument gives praise to a public servant.
How this monument gives praise to a public servant.

But focusing for a moment on the monument issue, should they be removed from public land? Most such monuments are to the leaders of the Confederacy, such as General Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis. But not all of them are. The monument in the square in Bentonville is to a man named James H. Berry. Originally from Alabama, he was raised in Bentonville and eventually became a legislator, governor, and U.S. senator. But, before that, during the Civil War, he enlisted and became a junior officer. Being wounded in one of his first battles, he came home and took no further part in the war. The monument, however, isn’t really about him. The statue is of him, and his name appears, with a plaque that details his years of public service. But elsewhere on the monument is this inscription: “1861-1865 To the Southern soldiers” On the base of the monument, on each of the four sides, the word “Confederate” is prominently displayed. This was erected in 1908, forty-three years after the end of the Civil War. On the base of the statue, on all four sides, “CONFEDERATE” appears in the largest letters on the statue.

A movement is now afoot to remove this monument. Should it be removed? The funny thing about this, there was absolutely no clamor about removing this monument until Sunday, August 13, 2017. In light of what had happened in Charlottesville, Virginia on the two previous days, a group of concerned people got together in Bentonville to make a public statement against hate. They did this in the center of the city, which is the square in front of the courthouse, the square where this monument is. As they got together, they stood on the paved path that encircles monument. They held hands as they sang and prayed for unity, peace, and giving up hate. I was unable to go due to an after-church meeting. From what I can tell based on reports, the “demonstration” was beautiful. The venue, however, was the worst possible place in the city to hold such a gathering. You decry racism and hate while encircling a Confederate monument? The event organizers should have thought that one through a little more. At the end of the “demonstration,” a number of people started chanting “Tear it down!” What else could you expect?

What it says on the monument around the corner. The other reason for it, perhaps the main reason.
What it says on the monument around the corner. The other reason for it, perhaps the main reason.

But I ask again, should this monument be removed? As I said in an earlier post on this blog, I say no: don’t tear down this monument, or any other. I say that as a man of mixed race but who knew nothing of the black component of my heritage until I was 46 years old, who never faced racial prejudice, who was raised in the north but who has spent most of his adult life in the south. This monument wasn’t erected to be a symbol against me or my people. So I can certainly understand that the feelings of others that are contrary to mine are valid, and perhaps more valid than mine.

Again I suggest that we not tear down this monument in Bentonville, or those in other places. Rather, add to them to tell the full history. To this monument in Bentonville, I suggest adding these words. If they won’t fit on the monument itself, find another way to prominently display them so that they will be seen equally with what’s already there.

This man, while honorable and a public servant, fought to preserve slavery. That may or may not have been his intent, but that’s what he did. That’s what all the enlisted soldiers did. They fought to preserve white ownership of blacks for no other reason than skin color. Remember this. Learn from it. Never let such an injustice happen again.

The print book is now available.
The print book is now available.

Do that in Bentonville. Do that in Charlottesville. Do that in Richmond. Do that at Stone Mountain, Georgia, along with an image of a white overseer whipping black slaves. Do this, and the full history will be told. Do this, and maybe, just maybe, we will make sure no such injustice happens again. And maybe, just maybe, the hate that these monuments seem to promote will be lessened, or even done away with.

We won’t expunge history, but will tell it fully and openly. We won’t forget it. And learn from it.

Saddened

The e-book has been available for two weeks, but I'm just now working on the print book.
The e-book has been available for two weeks, but I’m just now working on the print book.

My book on the civil war, Documenting America: The Civil War Edition, had much to say about race relations. How could it not, when the war, despite revisionist history to the contrary, was about perpetuating slavery?

I’ve made some posts about the contents of that book (such as this one: On Confederate Civil War Monuments). This weekend, with the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia, but without  time to watch the news enough to take in a full picture of what was happening, I can’t help but be saddened by what I saw and heard about. Clearly, something has gone wrong in this country. Progress we had made has disappeared, and we are back to the 1960s, or even the 1950s, in terms of race relations.

Yet, perhaps that’s an overly negative reaction to what happened, and what is happening. I think the number of people who would take us backwards is relatively small, certainly smaller than it was in those earlier decades. At least, I hope it’s smaller. Nowadays even a small group of nut jobs can get press out of proportion to the strength of their numbers, and certainly to the strength of their cause. So, although some groups are not even close to representative of barely aligned groups, the whackos get all the press.

In my book, one chapter deals with the views of Louis Agassiz on what would happen—what should be done with—the emancipated slaves once the war came to an end. Agassiz was a Harvard professor. He wrote three letters to a colleague who had solicited his views. Agassiz’s reply boils down to this: The blacks should be kept separated from the whites, and the two not be allowed to reproduce together; and those who are already mixed-race (half-breeds as he called them) should be allowed to die out. He said that intermingling of the races was “repugnant to my feelings”.

I found Agassiz’s views repugnant. That was the basis of my chapter. Here is some of what I wrote in terms of the modern lesson to be drawn from those old letters.

What is to be done? How do we change the hearts of mankind to drive racism into the abyss where it belongs? It’s said that, if you change yourself, you can change your family. If you change your family, you can change your neighborhood. If you change your neighborhood you can change your city. If you change your city you can change your county. If you change your county you can change your state—and your nation, and the world. It’s a big task, but it starts with me.

I’m glad my parents raised me without prejudice. Yet, I still need to be careful, less latent racism creep in and, without my realizing it, cause me to alter my behavior. To let that happen would truly be “repugnant to my feelings”, and something I—and we all—must diligently guard against.

Yesterday I posted that to Facebooks, to many likes, and no negative comments. Maybe, just maybe, it will have done some books. Nevertheless, at present, I remain saddened.

 

Publishing Tasks Wear Me Out

After a four day weekend trip to Meade, Kansas, for the funeral of my wife’s aunt, we returned home Monday evening, around 6:15 p.m. That’s what I call getting in in good time. After unpacking and relaxing a little, I went to The Dungeon, with the intent of resuming my writing career.

The e-book has been available for two weeks, but I'm just now working on the print book.
The e-book has been available for two weeks, but I’m just now working on the print book.

However, I saw that I had two directions to go in, and that one was necessary and one was optional. On the weekend I had spent some time reading for research into my next church history novel. I could continue with that, as well as re-read what I’ve written in my workplace humor novel, and decide which I would do next. Those two, together, form one direction: a writing path.

The other direction was publishing tasks. I need to get the print version of Documenting America: Civil War Edition finished and published. I need to get the print version of Headshots finished and published. On Monday evening, as I sat trying to make the decision, the former needed only a little work, while the latter had the interior done (I think; it’s been a while since I did it), and the cover needs to be done. I also need to get recent books listed on Goodreads, and a couple of short stories added to Smashwords.

I could see right away that the publishing tasks were more important right now. Yet, I couldn’t do them. Just something about them made me want to not start them. The same was true Tuesday and Wednesday. I couldn’t make myself do them. The DA:CWE cover it on my computer at work, and the interior on my computer at home. I guess it’s also on OneDrive, but I don’t really know how to use that or access it from work. But at work, in my personal time, I couldn’t make myself work on the cover. At home, I couldn’t make myself finish the interior. Consequently, Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday I got nothing done on my writing/publishing.

Yesterday was different. Thursday morning, before work started, I pulled up the cover in G.I.M.P. Just using that program makes me want to vomit. But, I didn’t really have much to do. I had one block of text I needed to change the font on, move an image a little, and I was done. I couldn’t figure out how to make the text changes. I looked in the manual, in some on-line tutorials, all with no help. Finally, I looked closer at my cover, and could see that the text, which was placed in the cover by someone else for the last book in the series, wasn’t a text layer at all; it was an image that couldn’t be changed. I quickly deleted that layer, created a text layer and put the text in with the correct font. I had the cover done and saved at 8:05 a.m.

Then, last night I took a look at the interior. I had finished it a couple of weeks ago, but wanted to give it one more look-through, just to make sure. I did that, and judged it “done”. I e-mailed it to my office (because I don’t know how to use OneDrive) to make the PDF today. I’ll do that shortly. At that point, I’ll have the cover and the interior files done, and on the same computer, and so will do the upload. I hope to have the finished on the noon hour today.

It won't be long before I'll be working on the print version of this.
It won’t be long before I’ll be working on the print version of this.

That brings me to Headshots. I think this weekend I’ll see what I can do with that. If the interior is really done, all that will be left is the print cover. That will have to wait until next week, unless I wake up my old computer (which had G.I.M. P.) and try to do it there. They say it’s to rain much of the weekend. How I would love to get Headshots done.

Adding books to Goodreads is easy; there’s just a few steps to go through. Adding the short stores to Smashwords will take a little formatting, but that should be only 30 minutes for each. Who know? Maybe by Sunday I can have all my publishing tasks behind me, and Monday I’ll be ready to get back to writing tasks. I’ll give you a report then.

“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.