Last week, I posted that it was my tenth anniversary as a blogger. As part of my "celebration," I asked a few friends to interview me. Here are a few of their questions (there will be more):
Joe Owens: What NC regiment do you consider displaying the most courage overall in a battle? The 26th NC at Gettysburg? Second question, have you thought about writing a book about a NC Revolutionary War Regiment, or maybe a battle in NC during the Revolutionary War?
Thanks Joe! I think it took a lot of courage for any soldier to stand in battle. Early in the war, they squared off face to face, like the 5th North Carolina at Williamsburg or the 26th Regiment at Gettysburg. That took a serious amount of fortitude. Late in the War, the Confederates were often protected by breastworks, but when they did attack, like the 60th Regiment during the Nashville Campaign, that took real courage. Was one regiment better than the others? No... probably not. They were all pretty tough.
Have I ever thought about writing on a Revolutionary War regiment or battle? There are a few people I find interesting from that time period whom I might write about, but not really any regiments or battles. It has taken me thirty years of reading and researching (and some reenacting/interpretive work) for me to feel confident about what I want to write about (mid-19th century). I'm not sure how many years it might take for me to feel confident enough to change time periods.
Chris: Kolakoski: Wow! Congrats on 10 years! Here's a question: What do you consider to be the essential elements of your research and writing process?
Thanks Chris! Hard to believe it has been 10 years! Hands down, I think the essential element in research is the internet. When I started researching that first book twenty years ago, I used the net to find snail mail addresses to write archives, looking for original source materials. I think I did ok. When Bob Krick reviewed the book, he said that I left "no stone unturned." That has kind of been my "motto" ever since. In many ways, it is so much easier now. The Confederate Compiled Service Records are online, the Official Records are online, Confederate Veterans and the Southern Historical Society Papers are online. Plus, there are millions of pages of newspapers online (and searchable, if you can figure out how someone spelled something). Plus, through several sources, I can search books that I would not have access to. I still use traditional libraries and archives. I still go to the family history section or the local genealogical society newsletters and flip through those books, looking for original letters. But all of the online resources allow me to look at thousands of pages of original material from my home office. And I think I find more stuff now; I have the time to be through since I'm not worried about parking meters or the library closing.
Wade Sokolosky: What aspect of NC CW history do you feel is the least understood or requires further research?
Thanks Wade! I'm really enjoying your new blog. My shelves, like many others, groan under the weight of books about the time period. There are scholarly tomes on the social side of the conflict. Many of the battles have fresh views from a talented array of military historians, and there always seem to be new biographies on the major military and political actors. But at the same time, the general public cries out for books about the places they live in and call home. I think local communities need more histories, as well as some of the minor players, both military and political. It seems we keep rehashing the same old things. There are a half dozen books on Greensboro and the War, but none on Raleigh.
Sam Shapiro asked a couple of good questions. The one about the battle of Wyse Fork I'll get to in another post. His second question was: "How many important battle sites are inaccessible to the public, due to the fact that the sites are on privately owned grounds? And do situations like that ever become contentious? Have there been legal battles to make the sites publicly owned? Isn't part of the Gettysburg Battleground still inaccessible for this reason?"
I guess we need to define "important battle sites." There are some battlefields that are lost - Battery Wagner off the Charleston coast (washed into the sea), while Atlanta and Chantilly have been gobbled up by development. Yet thanks to organizations like the Civil War Trust and various local groups, thousands of acres of battlefields at the major or important sites have been preserved over the past two decades. For example, in 2002 and 2003, the Bentonville Battlefield was identified in the Civil War Trust's annual report History Under Siege as a battlefield that needed to be preserved. Since that time, an additional 1,785 acres, bring the total preserved acreage to 2,100 acres. And the Civil War Trust is currently trying to acquire an additional 503 acres. Now, there are a lot of battlefield properties still in private hands. I wrote a history of the May 1862 battle of Hanover Court House many years ago. Every bit of that battlefield is private. And the owners really don't like having people wondering around their homes at all hours. You ask "do situations like that ever become contentious?" I've come close to being arrested for trespassing a time or two. Legal battles? Yes, but usually in the form of some large corporation buying a tract of battlefield land with plans to build a subdivision, or amusement park, or Walmart on the property. Then, the preservation community usually steps up and puts pressure on the corporation to sell the land. The private entities, like the Civil War Trust, that buy the land try and work hard to build good relationships with private land owners. The corporations can always pay more. The preserved land at Gettysburg has grown significantly over the past decade. One prime example is Lee's Headquarters, which just opened to the public last week. The Civil War Trust purchased the property, tore down the hotel, and restored the original house.