Today, July 14, 2014 I received one of the best compliments I have ever received about my writing. Lee Meredith, Production Manager, Savas Beatie Publishers, sent me an email in which he said Stand to It and Give Them Hell, was not like any other Gettysburg book he had ever read. He wrote, in part, “I’ve grown old reading the same old stuff about the 1st Minnesota or the 20th Maine moving around the battlefield. Gettysburg wasn’t just a battle of maneuver, but it was a battle fought by individuals, and that is what I like about your book. It is on a personal level. I enjoy that. I wish other books would be that way instead at the unit level.” I am extremely grateful to him for his kind words. I would be lying if I said that I was not blowing my own horn because I am. There is nothing wrong with saying that I have written a very good book, because I have. Mark Twain said, “I was born modest, but it wore off.”
The book would never have existed without the writings of the veterans. They wrote the stories and fought the battle, I merely pieced together what they witnessed and tried to preserve it for the future. As an historian and as a human being, I understand what they went through even though I have never been shot at. I know what it is to face death up close and personal. I know gut wrenching fear and not being able to sleep at night, of spending hours staring at the shadows on the windows and waiting for daylight. I have held a person’s hand while she died and I know what it feels like to feel the skin turn unbearably cold, to watch the face turn gray with the eye slowly going blank and then staring without any luster into the void. The “death rattle” is very self descriptive.
I know what it is like to feel helpless and utterly alone, unable to stop the insanity whirling around me and what it is like to carry a permanent injury, and the recurring pain associated with it. I know what it is like to realize that, in the harsh reality of life, those in charge all too often do not value the lives of their subordinates. I know what it is like to be haunted by memories which keep resurrecting themselves when I least expect them to and to blame myself for just being alive. I know what it is like to turn off my emotions and withdraw from those whom I love, to keep my real feelings locked up because deep inside I am afraid to tell anyone what I am thinking.
I write the way I do because those men and anyone else who has walked through the hell which they experienced should never be forgotten. No one should ever be forgotten. No one. All too often we remember the evil people in this world and the card board heroes, many of whom were shameless self-promoters. What about the average guys? What about the ones who died for no other reason than they happened to be in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time? What about the alleged “cowards,” a word which we use too freely? They also served. How about the ones who fell out from exhaustion while their comrades went into the fray?
All I have done is piece their stories together and woven into the narrative my insights into how they marched, how they maneuvered, and how they reacted to the frightful world in which they found themselves. Through my writing, I can guarantee in part that the world will see them as they saw themselves without apology or regret. I am connected to them by that mystical bond of memory of which Lincoln wrote. Just as I cannot undo my past and how it has affected me, they cannot undo theirs. I do not see heroes when I write. I see men whose lives and those of the people whom they knew, were never the same after this terrible ordeal of Civil War.