Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Crowdsurfing

When I was in Raleigh a couple of weeks ago, I was trying to track down a few sources that the publications committee used in producing the entry on 58th North Carolina in volume 14 of the troop books. I had a chance to meet some fine folks that afternoon as I bounced from department to department. At one point, one of the historians connected with the troop book project asked me what was going to be different about my book on the 58th NCT, in comparison with what was in the troop books. I had to think for a couple of moments, but the answer is simple: I have available to me quite a few more resources than the folks in Raleigh. That’s not to say that the folks in Raleigh don’t have great resources. They do. And I have made repeated trips to our state’s capital to exploit those resources.

So how is my book on the 58th NCT going to differ from the account that is in the troop book? The answer is simple: crowdsurfing.

Until today, when I was going through my blog list, I did not know that the term "crowdsurfing" referred to anything other than the stunt sometimes performed at concerts, especially the kind I attended when I was younger. I found a link on Paul Taylor’s blog, With Sword and Pen, to an article that recently appeared in the Boston Globe.

I’ve been crowdsurfing, in the literary sense for quite some time. I did it with my book on the 37th NCT, aa well as with the 58th NCT. How did I crowdsurf and what impact did it have? There were 2,000 men plus who served in both the 37th NCT and the 58th NCT. I created an alphabetical list, and then posted each name in an online genealogical database, like www.genforum.com. Yes, it takes a considerable amount of time to get all those names posted. The reward, however, is well worth the time invested. Unpublished or seldom seen letters, diaries, photographs, and post-war reminisces have been sent to me. Almost all of these items are rather unknown, and had I relied simply upon the materials at archives and libraries, the books would have been incomplete.

I’ll give you an example from my work on the 37th NCT. There was a story that came to me regarding one member of the 37th NCT telling Stonewall Jackson "I wouldn't go in there now. Its too dark, and your men may take you for the enemy and shoot you." Great story! However, what member of Lane’s brigade would not have wanted to repeat those words to Jackson? The speaker was Thomas Lowery of Company D. After doing some further research, I discovered that Lowery was acting second sergeant of Company D, and that Company D occupied the position of second company during the Chancellorsville battle. The second company is the furthest company to the left of the regiment, and Lowery, being second sergeant, would have ben post on the left of the company. The 37th NCT’s left rested on the Orange Plank Road. If Jackson rode out along the Orange Plank Road that evening, then no one was in a better position to tell Jackson not to ride out there in between the lines than Lowery.

Crowdsurfing - check it out. If you are writing a regimental history, it is a tool that is indispensable.