Q: Roughly how many books do you have in your collection?
A: Our library contains a couple thousand books. It includes volumes on the warfare of all eras. I have fewer than a hundred books on the Civil War.
Q: When did you start your collection?
A: I began to contribute to my family’s collection while I was in grammar school. My father had begun his collection, judging from the inscriptions in his books, in the Fifties after he married my mother. I inherited his collection in the Nineties.
Q: What does your wife think of your library?
A: Part of my family’s collection belongs to my wife, who is also my law partner. She comes from Richmond, Virginia. She is connected with how I began to write about the Civil War. Her grandmother asked me to trace their family back as far as I could. In doing so, I found soldiers from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. I became interested in Colonial Virginia first and collected books on that. I also acquired volumes on Petersburg, Dinwiddie County, and Brunswick County, where her ancestors had settled, and she approved of those. Only when I began writing books about the Civil War in the late Eighties did I begin to collect books about it.
Q: How many times have you had to move with the library?
A: My family moved as I entered eighth grade and again while I was away at law school in New York. Some volumes disappeared in these moves, including Three Lights from a Match, an unforgettable group of stories about World War I by Leonard H. Nason. The first move was in 1984, to cart my collection about five miles across town from my parents’ house to the house my wife and I had bought. Shortly afterward, my wife and I moved her collection about twenty-five miles from downtown Chicago to our house. The biggest move was in 1995 to transport my father’s collection across town to my house after he and my mother had died. The moves across town were easy. Moving my wife out from Chicago was difficult. We moved her out on the coldest night in Chicago history, twenty-six below. The moving van broke down on the Dan Ryan Expressway. The movers got drunk. The van had to be towed out to our house. Her plants died and it seemed to take weeks for the house to warm up, but her books survived.
Q: What's your most prized book?
A: Richmond Redeemed: The Siege at Petersburg. It contains the following inscription by Dr. Sommers, whom I regard as the standard setter for research in the field:
To John Horn
The road to New Market Heights runs from Deep Bottom; the road to Peebles Farm runs from Globe Tavern; before Richmond could be redeemed, the Weldon Railroad had to be destroyed.
Richard J. Sommers
June 3, 1995
(The title of the first edition (1991) of The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864 was The Destruction of the Weldon Railroad.)
Dr. Sommers and the Harrisburg Civil War Round Table were kind enough to have me out to talk with them in the Nineties to talk about the August 1864 fighting around Petersburg and then help lead a tour of the August 1864 battlefields I had written about in the first edition of The Siege of Petersburg: The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864.
Q: Are your books in one room or spread out through the house?
A: Our collection is scattered throughout our house and law office.
Q: How are the titles organized?
A: A bookcase in our living room contains our books on Colonial Virginia as well as the books I’ve written. Volumes on mountaineering occupy a table in what used to be our elder daughter’s room—she’s now a lawyer in Atlanta. I am putting my books on the Siege of Petersburg on a shelf in my law office to prepare for a revision of The Petersburg Campaign which will have footnotes, an index and more maps. Our travel books, mostly Michelin guides, some from my wife’s first trips to France in the Seventies, are collected in our dining room and in a bookcase on our upstairs landing. Otherwise there is chaos.
Q: What's next on the "To Buy" list?
A: Next on my “To Buy” list is Dawn of Victory, by Edward Alexander, a new book about the closing battles of the Petersburg Campaign.
Q: Do you spend a lot of time in your library?
9) Since almost every room in our house and law office contains books, I’m very often in my library.
Q: Do you have any final thoughts?
10) A book has to be mighty tough for me to put it down. I’d read a train schedule.