Do you hear angels singing? About 11:30 last night, I finished the 58th NCT manuscript. The photos are in order, captions written and proofed, maps are finished, map captions are finished, the whole thing (manuscript, photos, maps, and captions), is printed out, cover letter written, and everything burned on disk. It is sitting here on my desk waiting for the post office to open. The manuscript is 128,379 words in length (393 pages), with 95 photographs (had to cut some), and sixteen maps. I’ve been writing about three years – not three straight years, but three years. I started collecting information about eleven years ago, when I started working on my history of the 37th NCT. I have talked to hundreds of descendants along the way. One of my readers said that he believed that this was my best book yet. I hope so, and I hope, when it comes out sometime next year, that you will agree.
I believe that I have written this before (but I am too tired to go and look), that writing regimental histories (in my opinion), is one of the hardest things to do. This is my second. I have written many other things – battle histories (Hanover Court House and the Brooksville Raid), county histories (Watauga and Avery), pictorial histories (Avery, Caldwell, McDowell, and Confederate Veterans), and several magazine articles including a couple of bios, and nothing compares to the work of a regimental history. You can be the master of a battlefield – you can crawl over every inch of it, and read scores of letters and reports that describe the actions that took place. To write about a regiment, not only must you know how a regiment worked, but you must know about every battle it fought. For both the book on the 37th NCT and the forthcoming book on the 58th NCT, I have tried to walk over every place they fought, and a few places that they camped. This was a little harder for the 58th NCT, considering that most ofthe battlefields in Atlanta are gone! But I’ve tried.
The 58th NCT has been a much more challenging task that the 37th NCT. The primary sources are not what I would like (no 58th NCT records after August 1864), and the secondary sources are not that good. Several good histories of the overall campaigns, but nothing like Rhea’s Overland Campaign books. When I wrote the book on the 37th NCT, the only thing that I felt that I really need a good book about was the battle of Hanover Court House (Slash Church). So I took my research, dug deeper, and wrote a well-received book about the battle. I could spend the rest of my writing career looking into some of the holes in the scholarship in the western theater of the war.
Even though I may grumble and complain from time to time, I enjoy writing regimental histories more than anything else. I enjoy looking into the lives of the men who really fought the war, who are standing on the firing line as the lead minies sing their death songs. I enjoy describing how the face of battle changed during the course of the war, how the men passed the hours upon hours that they spent in camp, about their longing to see their loved ones at home. Will I tackle another regiment? Sure – but probably not anytime in this year. Do I have another project in mind? Sure – I’m a writer. Am I going to tell you? Not yet…
The above picture I took this morning. That is the 58th NCT manuscript lying on my very untidy desk, waiting for the post office to open.