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Friday, March 27, 2015

Part II: Add Human Interest!
Another way to add value to your history of a Civil War battle or campaign is to add more human interest.  Give the reader more details about the men who fought.  Researching online facilitates this. 
Some of the officers and men who participated in the Fourth Offensive at Petersburg struck me as extraordinary.  Colonel John Pulford of the 5th Michigan Veteran Volunteer Infantry had already suffered multiple wounds when he endured a broken back in the battle of the Wilderness resulting in partially disabled arms.  Nonetheless, Col. Pulford led his regiment at Fussell’s Mill on August 16, 1864, and took command of his brigade when his brigadier, Colonel Calvin A. Craig of the 105th Pennsylvania, the Wildcat Regiment, was mortally wounded.  Every man of the 5th Michigan Veteran Volunteers qualified as a hero because they had all reenlisted—the equivalent of soldiers voluntarily serving multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. 
A Confederate officer who comes to mind immediately was Brig. Gen. John R. Cooke of Heth’s Division, A.P. Hill’s Corps.  By 1864, General Cooke had endured seven wounds and the pain from them made sleep difficult for him, yet he qualified as one of the outstanding brigadiers in the Army of Northern Virginia.
Men just as remarkable stood in the ranks.  Orderly Sergeant Howard Aston of Company F, 13th Ohio Cavalry (dismounted) in Hartranft’s brigade had joined up three times.  Discharged from the 97th Ohio Infantry for heart disease, Aston had reenlisted in the 5th Independent Battalion Ohio Cavalry, and when that term of enlistment expired, in the 13th Ohio Cavalry (dismounted) in Willcox’s division of IX Corps, which helped save the day for the Federals at Globe Tavern on August 19, 1864.
Opposite Aston stood Private George S. Bernard of the Petersburg Riflemen, Company E, 12th Virginia Infantry—the Petersburg Regiment—in Weisiger’s Brigade of Mahone’s Division, A.P. Hill’s Corps.  Discharged from the 12th Virginia in 1861 because of illness, Bernard in 1862 reenlisted in the Meherrin Grays, which was assigned to the 12th Virginia that year.  Wounded and captured at Crampton’s Gap on September 14, 1862, Bernard was exchanged and assigned to recruiting duty.  He rejoined his regiment and transferred back to the Petersburg Riflemen in time for the Chancellorsville Campaign and remained in the ranks until February 6, 1865, when he earned a furlough with another wound. 
Such officers and men would do any army proud.

Monday, March 23, 2015


Another website I drew upon for the revised version of my book on the August 1864 fighting around Petersburg is mainly for Petersburg aficionados--Petropolitans.  The website is  It allows access to official records, maps, letters, diaries, MOLLUS Papers, National Tribune, Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, Southern Historical Society Papers, ConfederateVeterans, other postwar publications, unpublished archival materials and more.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


Part 1: Let Your Fingers Do the Walking!

One way to add value is to let your fingers do the walking and research as much as you can online.  Many books and manuscripts are now online. 
When I wrote the first edition of my book twenty years ago, the published material at my disposal consisted of the volumes I could get at Chicago's Newberry library, the tomes I could order interlibrary loan, and the books available at the libraries to which I could drive.  This time I did much of my research online.  I used sites such as

When I was writing the first edition of my book and I wanted to review the Official Reports, I would drive up to the Bedford Park Public Library and take out the volumes I needed.  Rewriting the book, I accessed the Official Reports online at  I also drew upon this source for periodicals such as Southern Historical Society Papers.  Writing the first edition of the book, I had drawn upon the Newberry Library for such periodicals.

Many repositories have put online their collections of unpublished manuscripts.  Writing the first edition of my book, I was given transcripts of some of the James H. Lane Papers at Auburn University.  Since then, Auburn University has gone online.  Direct access allowed me to observe mistakes in the transcripts I had and I was able to quote them accurately.

Writing more than twenty years ago, it required research at the National Archives to obtain personal information on individual soldiers.  A few years ago, when Hampton Newsome, Esq., Dr. John Selby, and I were annotating Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans, we were able to go online to get personal information about individual soldiers.  Writing the new edition of my book on the August 1864 Weldon Railroad Battles, I resorted to  Many other sites are available.  Google civil war soldiers!

Likewise, if I did not want to rely upon my publisher's stock of photos and illustrations twenty years ago, I had to write to a library for a photo.  This time I accessed photos and illustrations at the websites of the National Archives and the Library of Congress.  Maps are available at these websites as well. 


Saturday, March 14, 2015


                Richard Sommers set the standard for research in the field of Civil War battle and campaign histories in Richmond Redeemed:  The Siege at Petersburg.  When he wrote Richmond Redeemed, he is said to have visited in person an extraordinary number of repositories of letters, diaries and memoirs of soldiers of both sides who participated in Grant’s Fifth Offensive at Petersburg.  Writing The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864, I knew I could not meet that standard.  The law is a jealous mistress and she does not allow me to spend that much time away from her.  I had to find other ways to add value to my book.  I found several.  One way was to let my fingers do the walking and research as much as I could online.  Many books and manuscripts are now online.  Another way was to add more human interest and give the reader more details about the men who fought in the Fourth Offensive.  Researching online facilitated this.  Yet another way was to add more maps, particularly of the first day of Second Deep Bottom, the most critical day of the whole Fourth Offensive.  I now have a much clearer idea of troop movements on that day than when I wrote the first edition of my book (The Destruction of the Weldon Railroad: Deep Bottom, Globe Tavern and Reams Station, August 14-25, 1864) more than twenty years ago.  Still another way was to put the Fourth Offensive in its place in the history of warfare.  This drew upon what I had read about other conflicts since boyhood.  Finally, I tried to add value to my book by crunching numbers and doing a statistical analysis of the fighting.  This also drew on my previous readings in military history over the years.  I think I succeeded in adding value to the current edition of my book, and in the coming weeks I will explore the particulars of each of the avenues I pursued to add that value.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Yet Another Good Review of "The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864"

Here is yet another good review of "The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864."  This one is posted both on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

An important book that is worth reading!, February 28, 2015
This review is from: The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864 (Hardcover)
Petersburg is a siege, long, static and while deadly, it was boring, as all sieges are.
The Battle of the Crater and the breaking of Lee’s line receive the majority of any attention Petersburg receives.
An often overlooked but critical campaign occurred in August of 1864, when Grant extended the line westward to cut the Weldon Railroad.
This action caused the battles of Second Deep Bottom, Globe Tavern and Second Reams Station.
Grant succeeded in cutting the rail line and forcing Lee to keep his army concentrated in Petersburg.
This campaign exposed serious problems within the Army of the Potomac’s command structure and raised questions about the willingness of the rank and file to fight.
The author’s account of these problems and the reasons for them is excellent.
Additionally, he discusses the impact of constantly raising new regiments and bounties have on performance.

The heart of the book is the account of the battles.
Excellent writing, coupled with well-placed maps keeps the reader from getting lost, even in the most chaotic situations.
The result is an understandable intelligent account of these lesser-known battles firmly fitted into the larger picture of the war.
The Siege of Petersburg is starting to receive the coverage it deserves and we need to have.
This is an important book in this development and one that is worth reading.