Yesterday afternoon, I submitted to the publisher my manuscript on the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, also known as Lee's Headquarters Guard. It is always a sense of relief when a manuscript goes off. Those last two or three weeks are a challenge. The manuscript is done, and it's been read and reread, but getting the notes moved, the images just right, captions written, and index created, etc., just takes time, and honestly, by that point, I'm tired of working on it. You know: it's done. I've written it. I've typed that last period.
|Longstreet and staff (Mort Kunstler)|
Many folks will be surprised that I've tackled a Virginia project. For the past twenty years (over, actually), I've been writing about Tar Heel soldiers and their state. I've built a career on it. I guess that is why I pursued this project: I needed a break from North Carolina. I wanted to prove I could write about another state. Now, this regimental history covers the same ground as General Lee's Immortals, my history of the Branch-Lane brigade. There are the same battles, like Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, etc., and some of the same famous characters of the war: Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, A. P. Hill. But the experiences of these men, the couriers, and clerks, and scouts, and guides, and teamsters are so vastly different from the Tar Heels, that it was a refreshing break.
Along those lines, this is not the same book as General Lee's Immortals. There is not the depth of material to draw from. The 39th Battalion had fewer than 600 men on the books, and usually fewer than 200 in camp at any given time. There were almost 10,000 men that served in the Branch-Lane brigade. That's not to say that I didn't find good stuff. The account by Capt. William F. Randolph at Chancellorsville is one you don't often hear. Randolph was with Jackson the night Stonewall was wounded. And then there is Joshua O. Johns, who rode with Robert E. Lee and Charles Marshall to meet Grant at the McLean home in Appomattox.
At the same time, on a professional level, I really want to advance the discipline or genre of regimental histories. It is not an easy genre. Not only does there need to be an understanding of multitudes of battles, but the writer must know about a plethora of other subjects, like military discipline, medical care, logistics, prisoners, etc. This new book on the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry is yet another foundation stone or building block (at least I think it is). J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr., in his seminal work Buff Facings and Gilt Buttons: Staff and Headquarters Operations in the Army of Northern Virginia, considers the couriers, orderlies and escorts "almost historically invisible." (205) Hopefully, these men will not be quite so invisible as they have been in the past.
Time to move on. Time to get some blogs up, and to read more for that next project, Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia. By the looks of this winter, I'll have plenty of reading time.