Friday, December 28, 2007

Confederate Officer Story Excerpt Published

“Eager for the Fray,” a profile of the life and military service of Tennessee’s James Trimble Brown, has been published with his carte de visite in the current issue of Battlefield Photographer, the bi-annual journal of The Center for Civil War Photography.

Brown’s story will be included in my forthcoming book. You may recognize his portrait from the landing page of the Web site.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Book Jacket Blurb

Yesterday I received a well-written blurb from Les Jensen, Curator of Arms and Armor at the West Point Museum and an authority on Confederate photography. I contacted Mr. Jensen in August at the suggestion of Mike McAfee, a leading authority on Union uniforms. Mr. Jensen kindly accepted my invitation to review the manuscript. His positive comments will be forwarded to my editor for inclusion on the book jacket.

Jenson joins two other individuals who provided text for the book jacket: Edwin C. Bearss, Chief Historian Emeritus, National Park Service, and Bob Zeller, author of The Civil War in Depth and other books and recently in the news for his involvement in the discovery of the Lincoln at Gettysburg images.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Reminder

Yesterday, I received an email from a Tennessee man. He recently toured the battlefield of Stone’s River with his fiancé, purchased a copy of Faces of the Civil War in the gift shop, and wrote to tell me how much he enjoyed it. He also mentioned that his great, great grandfather fought in a Tennessee infantry regiment, and that he looked forward to reading the forthcoming Confederate volume.

Emails like these fuel my passion to research and write profiles of soldiers from this unique generation of Americans. They also remind me how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to distribute these stories to a wide audience, and to contribute to the continued interest in the Civil War.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I’ve spent part of the last two weeks collecting permissions documents from the various institutions and private collectors who have provided Confederate cartes de visite for the book. For each of the images credited to museums, I received a formal letter granting permission for one-time publication. In the case of the private collectors, the permissions range from signed statements to informal emails. All of these documents have now been sent to an acquisitions assistant at Johns Hopkins University Press.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Lt. Col. O'Brien's Body, Lying in State

This morning, I completed a project that has been on my desk for about six months. It is the story of Lt. Col. James O’Brien of the Forty-eighth Massachusetts Infantry, a noble Irish-American cut down in battle while leading his men against the almost impenetrable defenses of Port Hudson on May 27, 1863.

What makes his story particularly interesting is the recent discovery of a photograph of his body lying in state in the Charlestown City Hall. This is the first such image I’ve ever seen. The image was part of a scrapbook assembled by one of O’Brien’s sons in 1883 — twenty years after his father’s death.

I found out about this scrapbook back in 2002 while researching O’Brien’s life and military service for my first book. A family member alerted me to its existence after reading my post on, but, for various reasons, never produced copies of the photo and the other pages of the scrapbook, which includes letters, newspaper clippings, and other documents. I published O’Brien’s story without the benefit of this information.

Earlier this year, I received an email from Reggie Van Driest, also responding to my post. He had recently purchased a carte de visite of O’Brien (the same view published in my book) and was eager for details. I shared with him the information about he scrapbook. Reggie pursued the lead, and it paid off: He learned that a CD full of scans of the scrapbook had been donated to the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Soon, we had copies and were both blown away by the amount of original source material — and, of course, the wonderful image of his coffin at city hall.

Based on this new information, and my earlier work, I wrote a story focused on O’Brien’s death in battle, and the yearlong journey that took his remains from a temporary interment in New Orleans to his final resting place in Massachusetts. Reggie provided captions for the coffin image and his carte de visite portrait of O’Brien. The article and images have been submitted to Editor Dave Neville at Military Images Magazine, in which the story will eventually appear.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Twelve Monkeys Parallel

One night this past week, channel-surfing from the sofa, I watched the sci-fi film Twelve Monkeys. When it was released about ten years ago, I saw it on the big screen and immediately added to my all-time top movies list. This is the first time I’ve seen it since then, and my first viewing after beginning my research on Civil War soldiers.

I discovered a thread in the movie that parallels my research experience. Without giving too much of the plot away, scientists in the future, trying to solve a mystery, send volunteers back in history for facts. They bring back a mix of information, some useful, some not. The group of scientists sort through the fragments of information, put the pieces of the puzzle together, and agree on a likely scenario. The pieces appear to fit perfectly, and the scientists are almost positive that they’ve got it right — until one volunteer stumbles upon a critical fact that crumbles the theory and puts the scientists on the path to the real course of events.

In my case, I’m the volunteer rooting around the past and collecting information about the life and military service of Civil War soldiers. I am also the group of scientists charged with assembling the various details into a coherent story that accurately reflects the soldier’s life experience. In every case, I am confident that the information presented at publication is accurate and comprehensive. And yet I believe that there are still fragments of critical information that lay undiscovered in the basement of a local historical society, or the attic of a descendent. It is my hope that by telling the stories of these common soldiers, additional information will surface and contribute to a more detailed profile of the individuals in this unique generation of Americans.