Monday, May 30, 2005

First Confederate profile

Second lieutenant John L. Ells of the Third Georgia Infantry is the first Confederate soldier to be profiled for the companion volume to FOTCW. This morning, Memorial Day 2005, I began recording information collected from a variety of sources, including research by David Vaughan, a Georgia image collector from Atlanta. I met with David last month, and he generously allowed me to scan his collection of CDVs, including Ells. Vaughan was kind enough to provide me with all the information he's collected to date. I am grateful for his help, and am pleased to begin my work on this volume with an image from his fine collection.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Me and Edwin B.

Many people have asked if I am related to Edwin B. Coddington, author of the landmark "The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command." I am not directly related, but am sure that branches of our family tree are joined at some point during its 350-plus years of growth in the U.S.

Quote on leadership

"Give me good commanders and I will give you good results."
— Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, commenting on the performance of his subordinates during the cavalry fight at Aldie, Virginia, shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg. OR, I, XXVII, 1: p. 913.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The rarely found nickname

Rarely do I come across the nickname of a soldier in the course of my research. When I do, I'm ecstatic, because it makes my profiles more personal. When I do not, I'm disappointed. Case in point: Thomas R. Clark, a Vermonter who became a signal officer in the Union army, is my current subject. The Gettysburg National Military Park owns a collection of his personal items. Included in the collection is an account book, or business ledger, that belonged to his brother, William J. Clark. In the book he signs his name as "Willie." A nickname! But Thomas, my subject, always signs his full name. More than likely he was called "Tom," but I've no way to prove it, and so cannot include it in my profile.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Deadwood's portrayal of Civil War veterans

I've just finished watching the first season of HBO's "Deadwood" series (on DVD). The portrayal of Civil War veterans and others, which is set in a western territorial town in 1876, smacks of a gritty realism and individualism I've never seen on the small screen — or the large one. It's "Gunsmoke" for the twenty-first century. The doctor is the main character who is a veteran. He is depicted as a capable, practical man who is haunted by the war and has turned to alcohol for comfort. The preacher, a secondary character, found religion as a result of his war experience. Gen. George Crook, who has a cameo appearance is the last episode of season one, comes across as a thoughful man of common sense, yet is charged with avenging the Indians who defeated the U.S. cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn and killed Gen. Custer.

These characters remind me of the many soldiers I have researched in the course of writing the CWN column and book. The facts I've uncovered lead me to believe that life for those who survived the war was difficult for many, who suffered emotionally and physically from wounds, disease and what would today be diagnosed as post-traumatic syndrome. What I've strived for in non-fiction, Deadwood has addressed in fiction. That is, to tell the stories of a generation of common men who participated in our nation's greatest crisis, "The Brother's War," as Deadwood's preacher referred to it.

Bottom line: It is refreshing to see such an honest and straightforward presentation of a period in our history of great hope and deep sorrow. I highly recommend the program. It is not suitable for children due to the language and adult themes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Visit Fort Sumter

Anne and I took a day trip to Charleston during our recent beach trip to South Carolina, and spent the afternoon touring Fort Sumter. The only way to the fort is by tour boat, which runs three trips daily from the modern brick visitor center. We took the last trip of the day, which leaves the dock at 2:30. You'll need about two-and-a-half hours, forty-five minutes travel time each way and an hour to explore. My favorite view of Sumter is from the tour boat as we were coming up to the dock near its main gate. The old brick and mortar fort looks relatively unspoiled. But the years have not been kind. About the time of the Spanish-American War the fort was modernized by the addition of a massive cement structure which occupies more than half of Sumter's interior. It's black-tarred walls stick up above the deteriorated brick walls of the original fort. So you've got to use some imagination to get a picture of Sumter in 1861. Despite the modernization (which, by the way, helped to keep the fort in service unti 1947) it was great to be on the spot where the war began. The park rangers were, as has been my experience at all NPS locations, friendly and informative. The lead ranger poked fun at the tape which played during our boat trip, but I thought it did a great job providing background and interesting details about the history of the fort and Charleston from colonial times to the present.

Death of Civil War Times Editor Jim Weeks

Upon my return from vacation I learned of the tragic death of James P. Weeks, editor of Civil War Times magazine. Jim was fatally injured after a truck struck him while he ras running. He had been in charge at CWT since last fall. He contacted me last September, shortly after receiving a review copy of the book. We had a friendly conversation, in which he confided how happy he was in his new job. He also invited me to write an article for the magazine, which ran in the April issue. I just completed me second article, which he received shortly before his death. In all of our dealings he was upbeat and enthusiastic, and I am shocked at his untimely and tragic death. His loss is a painful one for the CWT family and the entire Civil War community. I am deeply saddened that his tenure at CWT was so brief, as he had given me the "green light" to write more articles, and I was excited to work with him on future projects.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Faces at NPS

Received an e-mail yesterday from one of the bookstore vendors who serves the National Park Service. The contact stated "We are selling FACES & it is doing well!" Always good to get an update, albeit anecdotal. I had originally contacted the bookstore to arrange a signing, and am hoping to schedule a NPS event in the fall.

Third Georgia Infantry, C.S.A.

This week I began researching the first two soldiers in gray for my next book, "Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Confederate Soldiers and Their Stories." Both soldiers were selected from carte de visite images from the fine collection of David Vaughan of Atlanta. David's focus is Georgia veterans, and Georgia Military Institute (GMI). One of soldiers is John Lewis Ells of the Third Georgia Infantry. My online serach turned up a site titled "Co. 'G', 3rd Regiment Georgia Volunteer Infantry" ( It has a wealth of information and is well-designed. If you're looking for anything related to the Third, this is a great destination.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

U.S. Signal Corps resource

Col. Bill Cameron, who has written extensively on the role of the Signal Corps in the Civil War, weighed in on two messages sent by Thomas R. Clark from the Adams County Court House in downtown Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. The messages have received very little scholarly attention due to a variety of reasons, including that Clark was attached to the not-so-fortunate Eleventh Corps, and Clark's early death (in 1868) which prevented him from participating in post-war battle debates between the veterans. If you need help finding information about the Signal Corps, check out the Signal Corps Discussion Forum ( Dave Gaddy, one of the participants, led me to Cameron. I am indebted to both individuals for their help. BTW, Clark's full profile will run in the July 2005 issue of the "Civil War News."

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Welcome to Faces of War

I created this Web log to share and exchange tips, resources, thoughts and information as I research and write profiles for my column and next book, "Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Confederate Soldiers and Their Stories."