Monday, August 08, 2011

An Interview

A few days ago, I stumbled across an idea: ask you to interview me. So, I posed the question to my 1,200 facebook friends: what do you want to know - about me, about my writing process, etc. etc. Here are some of the answers to the questions you asked:

Paul Chrisawn asked a series of questions. His first was: "Which North Carolina soldiers or leaders stand out as having the most success and influence after the war was over." Zeb Vance would probably top that list. While the Reconstruction years were rough - never knowing if you could be arrested at any moment and tried for treason, struggling law practice in Charlotte, Vance was able to eventually rise again, served as governor of our fair state, and then as US Senator for three terms. I'm sure that there are others, but Vance kind of stands above the rest.

" What do you consider as North Carolina's greatest moment in the war?"  Hmm.... economically speaking - the way that North Carolina took charge and purchased her own blockade runners, and supplied her own troops, and at times, troops from other states. Politically, it would be Vance's fight for freedom of speech. Even after Holden turned to the peace movement, it was Vance trying to stop people from ransacking Holden's newspaper's office. On the battlefield - First at Bethel, Furthest at Gettysburg and Chickamauga, Last at Appomattox...

" Your favorite North Carolina war site to visit and why?" Yet another hard question - Out of state? Probably Snodgrass Hill where the 58th NCT fought, or maybe the Sunken Road at Sharpsburg  where the 4th and 14th NCST fought, or maybe Spotsylvania Court House, near the marker where the 17th Michigan is - that is where the 37th NCT saved the ANV for the second time in one day. I've written about many of these sites, and I've walked many of these site. I often try and take their letters with me and read them on the spot, trying to see, at least geographically, what they saw. In the state: I see the war everyplace in North Carolina - standing on the Blue Ridge Parkway overlooking the Globe area of Caldwell County; on the Bentonville Battlefield; or, among the remains of Ft. Fisher. If I am out in the field, with maps and letters and camera in hand, it is my favorite spot.

Matt Bumgarner asked: "What do you think would have happened had the idiot governor of SC waited a mere 3 days more for Ft. Sumter to have been given up voluntarily due to dwindling water and rations? It was Gov Ellis who used Lincoln's call for troops to march upon SC to rally the state for secession. I wonder what might have been had the shots on Sumter not actually occurred."  I believe that by 1861, the war was bound to break out at some point. Remember, it almost started in Pensacola, Florida, in January 1861, and cooler heads prevailed.  So if it is not Charleston in April 1861, maybe it is Pensacola in May 1861, or Fortress Monroe in June 1861. For the people who made most of the political decisions, their bridges were already burning behind them in the spring of 1861.

My darling Elizabeth asked: " What is your favorite/least favorite part of the writing process and why?" Well, I love the researching process the most - finding out these neat, little stories that have lain hidden for so many decades. And I really like the writing process, of putting all these things together. I do like meeting people and hearing their stories. I terribly dislike the traveling - pulling in all hours of the night, hotel rooms, etc., etc.  Why do I dislike it? - I would really rather be at home.

Sandy Nutter asked: "Are you interested in researching/writing books on other historic battles, such as World War 2, or Vietnam?" The easy answer would be yes, and no. I have written about other time periods - I've been writing a series on local or High Country history for Carolina Mountain Life. These articles have ranged from the late 1700s to yesterday. One difficulty in writing in-depth about, say D-Day or the Tet offensive would be the learning curve. I have almost 30 years of interest/travel/experience behind me when I write about the Civil War. How long would I need to read and study on Vietnam in 1969? Here is another example. Even though I have written several books on different aspects of North Carolina and the Civil War, when it came time to start seriously working on North Carolina in the Civil War, I did nothing but read and take notes for six months prior to putting pen to paper. And I continued to read books and articles while I wrote.

Barbie Russ wants to know: " What has been your most exciting 'find' in your research? You know: the 'find'  that you are so excited about that it kept you awake that night just thinking about it.........." There are several - finding the John B. Alexander letters at UNC-Charlotte caused me to rewrite several chapters of the book on the 37th North Carolina Troops.  There were a lot of great finds with the battle of Hanover Court House project and the history of the 58th North Carolina Troops. One great "experience" was talking about the 1929 National United Confederate Veterans reunion in Charlotte, and meeting a man in the audience who was there -as a boy scout helping the old vets around town.

David Long inquires: " What has been your greatest challenge so far as one particular person that you have studied?" Biggest challenge - why did John B. Palmer, New York native, Detroit, Michigan, businessman, and colonel of the 58th NCT, move to present-day Avery County in 1858. I know so much about his life, yet this one piece of information escapes me.

Autumn Miner sent several questions. Her first was: " If you could choose one thing to change about the historical community, what would it be? How would that affect scholarship and the general public's reception of and participation in it?" Two things: I would do away with political correctness.  It hurts the historians' work because they are afraid of hurting someone's feelings. Well my friend, all history is offensive to someone: my Scottish ancestors did not think too highly of the English, and my Native American ancestors did not think too highly of the United States. The second thing I would change would be this whole academic snobbery issue. Since I don't have a Ph.D , and don't write for that academic crowd, does that make me any less of a historian? For some, yes it does. But for those I write for, those in the communities, or who had ancestors in the regiments I write about, I am much more a historian than those far away in the hallowed halls of academia. Given those two answers, I leave you to figure out that follow-up question.

David Long asks: "What were the ramifications for the people of Western North Carolina, following the Confederate Conscription act of 1862?" I think the real ramification is this: the Conscription Act left North Carolina almost defenseless.  All those who were willing to serve, and a few who were unwilling, were all drawn away to fight. In many cases, only the riff-raff  was left, and the civilian population suffered.

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