Civil War News Review

For the newest review of Stand to It and Give Them Hell go to this site:

While you are at it, consider purchasing Mr. Jorgensen's excellent micro-history, Gettysburg's Bloody Wheatfield, which is now available in Kindle, Nook, and iTunes formats.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Heartfelt "Thank You"

 When I was writing my first book, Antietam: The Soldiers' Battle (White Mane, 1989), a colleague and friend of mine at South Hagerstown High School told me that I could write a book with all of the best information available but if no one could read it, it was all in vain.  I took his advice.  I have written all of my battle books from the front line soldiers' perspectives because they intimately experienced the horrors of combat and it changed their lives forever. It changed this country forever, also.

My newest book, Stand to It and Give Them Hell, looks like it is going to surpass all of my other books, which I find rewarding and humbling. I wanted to thank everyone who has obtained a copy of the book and have read it or are intending to read it, because, in doing so, you will personally meet the men who, whether they wanted to or not, sacrificed so much for generations yet unborn. When I receive reviews, like the newest one, which I am posting below, with the author's permission, it encourages me to keep on writing. It means I have accomplished what I have intended to do - to bring home to the public the lives of the Civil War soldiers as Ernie Pyle did for the men and women in World War II and Erich Maria Remarque accomplished for the veterans of the Great War. They experienced war. I have only done so vicariously by being raised around veterans who brought the war home with them and passed their sorrows on to me.

I have not written about them yet and probably will not because I probably will never visit the field upon which they fought and lost their friends and their youth. I have stayed with the Civil War because it was literally fought in my own back yard and I want to preserve the soldiers' memories before a society which does not generally value history shovels them aside.

To my readers "Thank you."  The those who came before, "Thank you." "Lest We Forget."

"When I first heard about the premise of Stand To It and Give Them Hell I was intrigued.  Throughout all of the works about the Battle of Gettysburg I have read, there are only a select few which rely heavily on the primary sources to tell the story.  What John Michael Priest has done in this work has given us the story of the Second Day of Gettysburg from the Round Tops to Cemetery Ridge with over ninety percent of primary sources.  Even before I go into the analysis on the book, I can only say good things about this book.  Priest has given us something which I hope will become a classic in the years to come.

                John Michael Priest is a retired high school history teacher and has always been interested in the American Civil War.  He is a graduate from the Loyola College in Baltimore and Hood College in Frederick, Maryland.  He has written many works on the Civil War including Into the Fight: Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, and  Nowhere to Run: The Wilderness, May 4th & 5th, 1864.  He has also been considered the “Ernie Pyle” of the Civil War soldier by the legendary Ed Bearrs.  Priest is also one of the historical consultants for the upcoming television miniseries To Appomattox.

                Stand To It and Give Them Hell lives up to the hype of a narrative of the second day of Gettysburg as seen through the eyes of the soldier.  The main characters in the book are the soldiers themselves, but there are some accounts of the commanders as well in order to set up the action which takes place later on the day.  The greatest thing which I think Priest does in his work is set up the action by hours instead of by location.   There have been many other works in the second day at Gettysburg which have been chronicled by location, but Priest does this by hour.  Not only does this help the reader understand the action of the battle and the waves in which Longstreet attacked, but even the set up, which takes the first hundred pages of the text, are well read.  Without that background, the reader could be lost in the text without any aid as to the reasons for the attacks.  Also, there are a few sources which Priest mentions which may give the reader a different look on the stressed Robert E. Lee.  Some of the stories throughout the action are heartbreaking as to the sacrifice which these soldiers made on the fields of Gettysburg.  Some of these stories even make the reader proud to be American given the sacrifices made for the freedom of the country.

                I cannot recommend this book enough, highly highly recommended.  There was a lot of hype behind this work in the realm of Civil War academia, and it is well deserved.  This is a work which delivers time and time again only making the reader want more and more.  When the end of the book comes, the stories of the soldier are inspiring.  Thank you, John Michael Priest, for bringing us this work on the Battle of Gettysburg.  Highly Recommended."

From “The Gettysburg Chronicle" by Matthew Bartlett

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Miniature Wargaming

I have played with toy soldiers since the age of five. It began with a Marx Fort Apache Set, evolved into HO scale Airfix Figures and then switched back to the 54mm. I find it particularly relaxing to play “historical” scenarios and a challenge to write fun to play rules. The pictures shown below represent a fictitious Civil War engagement which my friends and I played in my basement several months ago. My “pard” and fellow school teacher painted the figures because I cannot do so with my partially disabled right arm.

This aerial view of the battle shows the field from the Confederate lines with infantry advancing, followed by artillery (lower left). Though it is hard to see, the Rebels are advancing up hill on the right through a stump field and over fences, all of which slow down the speed of the advance. The hayfield on the left does not impede movement but the smoke and the movement affects the effectiveness of the fire.

Facing the Rebs, and advancing through a woodlot, Union Zouaves rush forward to stop the Confederate advance. They are in two ranks and their officer (the figure with the sword) is trying to urge them forward under a hail of small arms fire ( as indicated by the smoke in the distance).

Along the fence row at the upper edge of the grove, Confederate “Louisiana Tigers” (Zouaves) cannot see their opponents across from them because the sulfuric cloud caused by the small arms fire has obscured their line of sight. In a situation like this they will expend a great deal of ammunition with minimal effects upon the enemy.

Meanwhile, a Union artillery piece abandons its forward position to escape being overrun by Rebel infantry. Across the road, another guns provides cover fire.

As they strategically “redeploy”. A heavy concentration of rebel infantry and artillery advance, hoping to inflict the final blow upon their Yankee opponents. The outcome is in the air.

Games like these teach small unit tactics and the difficulties of trying to move large numbers of troops within the confines of a small field. It incorporates terrain and smoke to simulate their effects upon movement and fire. In addition, as casualties mount, units have to run morale checks which can turn the battle, unexpectedly, in the favor of one opponent or the other.

I used games like these in the classroom to teach gamesmanship and Civil War history to students who had never played with “army men” before and I discovered that they accidentally enjoyed learning history while having a lot of fun. Many times they had to write after-action reports to explain how they fought the battles. No matter what, they learned that no strategy survived the first shot and that officers sometimes had little control in what happened upon the field.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why They Fought

Setting aside political, moral and social reasons, all of which have been hashed and rehashed ad nausea, why did many of the men serve in their respective armies?

1.       Pay – Army pay started out at $11 to $15 per month for a private, more money that a man could make on the farm or in the mines or a factory.

2.       Bounties – the local county and state governments as well as the national governments on both sides often paid cash to enlistees, which could amount into hundreds of dollars.

3.       In December 1863, the U.S. army offered every man who reenlisted for the duration of the war, a veteran’s stripe on his sleeve, 30 days furlough, and a $300 bounty. The government failed to tell the men who “re-upped” that the money came in three installments – $100 down, $100 later, and $100 upon discharge from the army, provided the recipient was still alive to receive the final two installments.

4.       Peer pressure – Often classmates and relatives enlisted together on “dares” or because everyone around them signed up.

5.       Food – The army promised three meals a day – albeit not often healthy –but in some cases - better than the food from home and a fellow did not have to hunt for it.

a.       Hard crackers (hardtack or sea biscuits in the Navy) came in two basic varieties – rock hard or moldy and mushy, - both with and without protein provided by weevils. The story goes that a sergeant bit into a particularly hard specimen and exclaimed, “God, there’s something soft in this!” Upon examination, he discovered that he had found a nail.

b.       Army beans (Navy beans today) had to be boiled to make them edible. The saying went that “Beans killed more than bullets.” Chronic diarrhea killed a tremendous amount of soldiers.

c.        Salt pork, often aged beyond reason and stored in casks of salt brine, could float from the salt content. Boiled, fried or raw, its fat content and greasiness became legendary. According to one source, a soldier, reviled by its smell and color, threw a slab of it against a cabin wall where it stuck fast.

d.       Salt horse, actually salt beef, defied any type of cooking, Virtually indestructible and taken from beef older than the Dark Ages, the men often buried it with a piece of harness.

e.        Coffee became the staple of both armies whether it came from coffee beans or chicory. The doctors considered three pints a day, often without sugar or milk, healthy.

6.       Clothing – According to regulations, a man received a uniform, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks and shoes which were cut to fit only the right foot. Unfortunately, as with so many armies, the clothing came in two sizes – too large or too small. Charlie Siringo, from Texas, received the first pair of pants and underwear he had ever worn by enlisting in the Confederate army. Before then he had run around in a gunnysack which ma kept lengthening, as he grew taller.
a.       A change of underwear often meant turning them inside out or “finding” them in an enemy supply depot.

b.       A man with more than two shirts, in some instances in the Federal army, resulted in disciplinary action.

c.        Shoes, for many, became somewhat problematic because they were cut for the right or the left foot and could only be interchanged if they were too big. Prior to enlisting, some of the rural boys either went shoeless or wore square cut shoes, which would fit either foot. The drillmasters had to teach them the concept of “left” and “right.”

7.     Adventure and travel – Many men saw it as an opportunity to leave home and travel all too often by foot – “shoe leather express.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Greatest Compliment of All

For years, I honestly believed that none of my children have read any of my books until my wife mentioned just the other day that our son had read Antietam: The Soldiers' Battle (1989). Two days ago ,he called me while on the way home from work.  My last surviving uncle in my mother's immediate family passed away suddenly on Monday and I was feeling a bit at loose ends.

While this is a loose paraphrase of what he said, I will never forget the impact of what he said.  I've been reading your new book. It is very good, much like your previous books on Antietam, South Mountain and the others in its approach but this is better. I don't know how you can remember all that detail. It started a little slow for me because I am not into the grand maneuvers but once I got into the action I could not believe how detailed it was. It is excellent for understanding the effect of leadership on the small unit level. This is very good. 

I told him I could not remember what happened five seconds before. I told him he honored me and I appreciated it.

He told me, "You cannot stop writing."

My heart nearly exploded in my chest. I could barely speak. He was genuinely proud of me and my work. What an honor! What a blessing! He is a man of few words and does not usually speak until he has something to say. I am so proud of him. I can say no more. But "Thank you!" For once, I could not think of a single thing to say. He had said it all and made all of my hard work mean something. I can write no more. Thank you.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Credit Where Credit is Due

There is so much more to writing and publishing a book than the manuscript, the author, and the final draft. I would like to delude myself in thinking that I am a reincarnated Wolfgang Mozart, who never rewrote any of his compositions because they were perfect the first time, but I cannot. As a book reviewer for Civil War News, I complain about the poor writing and lack of editorial work in far too many of the new releases.

Despite all of my published books, until I went through the publishing process with Savas Beatie on my recent release Stand to It and Give Them Hell, I had never worked with a developmental editor or a production manager. Ted Savas, the managing director of the press, assigned to me Tom Schott in the former capacity, and Lee Meredith is the company's production manager. Ted selects the basic design, and Lee implements it, handling the formatting, placement of maps and photographs, captions, and final design tweaking of the book. Stand to It and Give Them Hell looks as good as it does because of Lee's all-too-often overlooked role in producing a very polished book.

.The developmental editor has the difficult nitty-gritty task of polishing a manuscript into something ready to go to the production manager. In my case, Tom Schott was much more than a copy editor. Stand to It and Give Them Hell is a tribute to Tom Schott’s expertise.

Tom took a rough manuscript from a writer who had never worked with a developmental editor and honed it for my readers. He checked and corrected far more than my typos. He scoured the work word-by-word, line-by-line, one tedious footnote after another.
Tom did many things. He . . 
         Rewrote awkward sentences.

         Questioned the reasoning behind assertions I had made.

         Showed me the proper way to construct footnotes to better meet SB's guidelines.

         Helped me better organize a bibliography.

         Deleted unnecessary descriptions.

        Hounded me, quite rightly, to review confusing sentences.

        Moved parts of the text into the notes, and some text from the notes into the main text, etc.

Tom's hard work turned what I thought was a good battle book into a much better one.

Stand to It and Give Them Hell is a tribute to the professionalism of a press like Savas Beatie, demonstrated specifically by the likes of Lee and Tom, two professionals who usually work in the shadows without the attribution they so richly deserve. Their personal dedication to produce a book worth owning is laudatory. They, as well as the many others who work behind the scenes, deserve every bit of credit for their hard work.

These two gentlemen are a credit to Savas Beatie LLC.

John Michael Priest