Archive for August, 2013

How about a free book?

August 31, 2013

My publisher, Savas Beatie, does some pretty interesting marketing sutff. They do book trailers for new releases, which I never would have thought of, but I think are pretty cool. Now they have sweetened the deal…


FREE BOOK OFFER!: Each person who views the book trailer for my book “Failure in the Saddle” and posts a comment about it here will be entered into a drawing. Savas Beatie will choose one person at random who will win a FREE copy of the book! They will select a winner five days after this is posted, so don’t delay!

So take a look. It might really pay off.

General Grant and the Rewriting of History

August 10, 2013

General Grant and the Rewriting of History

The Rewriting of History

There is a meme in Civil War writing that I think of as the “How the Grant stole Christmas” genre. The flagship volume of that dubious club is Benson Bobrick’s Master of War, about George Thomas – Bobrick spends equal parts of his verbiage reviling U. S. Grant and apple-polishing for Thomas.

Hence, I tend to approach volumes dealing with Grant, other generals, and historiography very cautiously. When I first heard of Dr. Frank Varney’s new book, General Grant and the Rewriting of History, naturally, I was a bit suspicious.  Given that it deals with William Starke Rosecrans, I knew I would have to read it, from a professional interest if nothing else. After all, my own rather massive work on Chickamauga – Rosecrans’ defining moment in Civil War History – is now going into final editing. It would be stupid to bypass Varney’s work.

Well, now I have read Rewriting.  I am very glad I did. Professor Varney delivers. His work is scholarly, solidly researched, well argued, and in the main, convincing.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to hear that U. S. Grant was human, and capable of the foibles that effect us all. His memoirs, as great as they are to read, should be – like all such works – be taken with a healthy dose of historical skepticism. Varney lays out his case in careful and considered arguments. The best part of the book, IMO, is in untangling the very convoluted events surrounding the battle of Iuka, long regarded as the beginning of the Grant-Rosecrans rivalry.

I do have my own quibbles with some aspects of Dr. Varney’s train of thought. I think he too readily accepts Rosecrans’s own self-serving arguments about why the Army of the Cumberland failed to advance in the spring of 1863, waiting until June 24th – months after the Armies of the Potomac and the Tennessee had taken the field to fight major battles – to begin their own operations. Between December 1862 and June, Bragg’s army gave up two infantry divisions and two cavalry divisions, a total of at least 15,000 men, on various missions. If we count Carter Stevenson’s transfer from just before Murfreesboro, Bragg’s army was reduced by almost 20,000 infantry alone during those 6 months.

I also think that he too readily dismisses criticism of Rosecrans at Chickamauga as driven purely by partisanship. Grant had very little power to influence events at Chickamauga. Rosecrans DID become overwrought, and sowed the seeds of his own downfall. Varney’s insistence that Rosecrans did not panic on September 20th is a characterization that I could agree with, but only in the narrowest sense. Rosecrans did indeed almost certainly lapse into a kind of stupor for a time, a mix of exhaustion and shock, and enough different witnesses observed that state to make for a believable narrative. It wasn’t panic, but neither was it an example of an army commander with mastery over himself and his command.

But those are indeed merely quibbles.  General Grant and the Rewriting of History is an important read for any student of the war. It warns all of us of the dangers of over-reliance on single source history and a too-quick acceptance of one man’s version of events.


Conclave? What’s a Conclave?

August 1, 2013

So Tuesday night I got back from the first-evah Savas-Beatie Author Conclave (and Heavy-weight Champeenship Bout of the Century!) 

Well, not really that last part, but it felt kinda like that. More than a dozen authors were there, both during the day tours and in the evenings. Given that we met at Gettysburg, as you can imagine the focus was on that battle, and most of the wordsmiths present have written on Eastern Theater events.

Which is quite all right with me – long before I discovered the war in Northern Georgia I was a regular pilgrim to that small south-central Pennsylvania college town. I still enjoy the subject, though I admit that I am pretty dubious about many (if not most) of the books published on the subject.

But the conclave was run pretty much like our own Chickamauga Study Group, which occurs every March. Essentially the tours are short, what I would call modular, so that you can join or leave the group at any time, accommodating busy schedules or to deal with combat fatigue. There is no cost, but of course travel lodging and meals are on your own hook. Attendance was just about perfect, with about 30-35 folks on each tour, a fun but manageable size.

For me, the highlight was meeting my fellow writers, both those who I consider good friends (it was especially fun to see Eric Wittenberg and J D Petruzzi, whom I haven’t seen in a long time) and those whom I didn’t know personally or had met only in passing prior to this event.

It looks like the conclave was a success, and I am pretty sure Ted Savas intends to run it again next year (no idea where yet, so hold your questions, friends.) I shall be there.