1. Organize the accounts by regiment/brigade/division/corps/army. Winnow out the accounts, which say nothing, or are too general.
2. Using the most detailed maps you can find, to plot out the regimental positions as described in the sources. The reports of the monument commissions for the battlefields are a great place to start but keep in mind they might not agree with your findings based upon the eyewitnesses’s accounts.
3. Walk the ground. Examine the hollows, streams and hills described, Look for evidence of old fencerows (hint: trees growing in a fairly straight line).
4. Familiarize yourself with the tactics the cavalry, artillery, and infantry. This helps me locate where a regiment or an artillery battery would have deployed as opposed to where the veterans placed the monuments.
5. Organize the battle by time sequences. Do not accept the argument that watches were unreliable. Adjutants needed accurate watches to organize camp routines. In their diaries, they often noted the times for every bugle call and duty assignment. The army’s daily routine was organized around time pieces.
6. Footnote everything. Civil war enthusiasts can be nit pickers and vicious ones. Document, document, document! Use the footnotes or appendices to explain how you interpreted the incidents you recorded.
7. Do not fill your work with biographical fluff, explanations of how you arrived at your conclusions. Keep your narrative straight forward, succinct and assertive.
8. Do not tell the reader what to conclude or think. That is their responsibility, not yours.
9. Write, as much as possible, without expressing a particular bias toward one side or the other but do not soften your descriptions of what they experienced or saw. History cannot be what you want it to be. It must be what happened, even if it is offensive. Political correctness converts history into the realm of fiction. War brings out the best and the worst in the individual.
10. Sparingly use the word “cowardice.” A civilian’s concept of cowardice could be a practical option to survive to fight another day. A retreat could actually be an advance in a different direction.
11. Do not carve the evidence to fit into your premise. Present the evidence and nothing more. By doing this you will learn that maybe the emperor is not properly attired.
Thank you for reading this. Again, this is how I approach interpreting a battle. It is not the final word on the matter. Writing like teaching is an art, not a science. No two people practice the craft same way. The most important thing to remember is that the author be honest, concise and as objective as humanly possible.