Volume 2 | January 2017
Emerging Civil War  ·  January 2017
Assessing Facts and Sources  ·  New ECWS Title  ·  10 Questions with Kris White  ·  News & Notes
From the Editor:
Discussion of “fake news” and “alternative facts” has been a hot topic lately, particularly in light of this year's election. As a journalism professor, the phenomenon worries me, but my work as a historian has given me a little insight.

In general, people like to think of history as a set of objective facts: names, dates, places. I know many students of the war who can rattle off battle statistics, regimental sizes, commanders’ names, and entire encyclopedias of information. The real trick—and the source of honest disagreement—often arises when we try to figure out what those facts mean. In the business, we call that "interpretation. " And boy, do some people get fired up when they read an interpretation of facts that goes against their own!

As historians, we also have to scrutinize the credibility of sources. Who said what when, and with what agenda and in what context, and corroborated by whom?

The same thing seems to be happening today, where the credibility of various news outlets and professional experts gets called into question because we might disagree with their interpretation of the facts they present.

Honest disagreements are part of doing business as a historian, and they are also vital part of the debate that keeps a vibrant democracy functioning. The problem that underlies our current conundrum is that too many people are too insistent that their set of facts are correct rather than engaging in honest debate about the meaning of those facts. Avid students of the war are always looking to learn something (versus fans who just want to hear their favorite stories over and over)—and in order to learn, we must be open to new ideas, challenge our preconceived assumptions, and resist stereotyping. We have to critically examine the facts, the interpretation, and the sources.

If we approach our modern “facts” with the same sense of curious, critical inquiry we’ve learned as students of history, and then open ourselves to honest, respectful discussion, our democracy will be better off for it. We all will be.

-- Chris Mackowski
ECW Bookshelf
The next volume in the Emerging Civil War Series is now available: Ryan Quit's Determined to Stand and Fight: The Battle of Monocacy, featuring a forward by Ted Alexander.

In early July 1864, a quickly patched together force of outnumbered Union soldiers under the command of Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace prepared for a last-ditch defense along the banks of the Monocacy River. Behind them, barely fifty miles away, lay the capital of the United States, open to attack. Facing Wallace’s men were Lt. Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederates. In just over a month, they had cleared the Shenandoah Valley of Union soldiers and crossed the Potomac River, invading the north for the third time in the war. Determined to Stand and Fight tells the story of that pivotal encounter and an even more pivotal campaign that went right to the gates of Washington, D.C. Readers can enjoy the narrative and then easily follow along on a nine-stop driving tour around the battlefield and into the streets of historic Frederick.

10 Questions . . . with Kris White
Kristopher D. White, a co-founder of Emerging Civil War, serves as ECW’s chief historian. He’s also the organizer of our annual Symposium ( get your tickets now !) By day, Kris serves as the education manager for the Civil War Trust. Read his full bio here.

Let me start with the question I know you hear a lot: “How are you able to produce as much material as you do?”
I come from a blue-collar family and a city that once was blue collar, too. That drives me. I come from a lineage of construction workers, mill workers, coal miners, and farmers. My parents sacrificed a lot to put me and my siblings through college, so that rubbed off on me. If you are passionate and love what you do, this really isn't work.

When it comes to producing as much as we do, it boils down to planning and time management. We normally plan three projects or more ahead, which means when I am pulling research for one project, I'm on the look out for research for the other projects. That's way, I'm not wasting time pulling double duty down the line by having to go back to a repository or look at the same source five times. 

In the end it's time management, passion, and wanting to be good at the craft.

You’ve described yourself as a “research monkey.” What’s your favorite part of research?
That's a twofold answer. I love the thrill of the hunt when you have been digging for days and haven't found anything useful, and then you find that one piece of research that makes you say “That's gold, Jerry! Gold!” It can become burdensome when people find out that you are good at research or really know sources well, and they call on you time and again to do their research for them. I love helping folks, but they are missing the most rewarding part of the search: finding that one great account, quote, or map that ties everything together. My other favorite part is the time the research gives me to spend with my dogs. My dog Dobby loved to lay beside me when I researched and would sleep on my books or knock them to the floor, telling me it was time for bed. He recently passed. Although writing projects are time consuming, I look back fondly on those many hours because he and I got to spend a lot of time together.

What kind of writing advice would you give to aspiring historians?
Don't assume you can write. Accept criticism. Writing a book feels lonely at times but it's a team effort. You are part of the team with your publisher, cartographer, marketing people, editors, and everyone in between. I know the hard work it takes to write a book, but if you are balking at constructive criticism, understand that you may be too close to a project to see its faults. Editors can be your best friend or your worst nightmare—it all depends on how you treat them. 

Your career has been grounded in public history (as opposed to academic history). What is it about public history that you find so important?
I think the academic world and the public history world should have symbiotic relationship. Some folks, on both sides of the aisle, don't always see it that way. I think that the academic world presents us with new ideas and research. The public history sphere is where they are put to the test. It's not sitting at some panel at some conference with other like-minded people who totally agree with you, it's getting in the trenches, as it were, and presenting those new ideas to people who are not part of either sphere. To present what is new is always interesting.

But what draws me to the public sphere over the academic is, one, I don't need any more student loans, and, two, getting the stories out to the masses. I like helping people connect to those battlefield classrooms. It's where the action happened, not in the lecture hall. I like to help visitors connect with our past and their past, especially those who want to walk in the footsteps of where their ancestors fought. Or help a younger generation get that spark to connect with the past through artifacts or dressing as a soldier. I would say that the majority of those who are sitting in those undergrad freshman history classes came to the battlefields, a historic site, or museum, and it was a public historian who helped get them into that academic setting.
As one of ECW’s “founding fathers,” what has surprised you most about ECW in its five-plus years?
Mostly that it’s been five years. It feels like yesterday that we had this idea and, at the same time, it feels like a lifetime. I'm surprised at how far-reaching the brand is. ECW is international. We have writers and readers from all over the world. We have a publishing wing, a speakers bureau, and an annual symposium. I am humbled and very grateful for how the readers have embraced and supported us. We have some very enthusiastic supporters at all of our presentations and folks who love to engage us on the internet. Our annual symposium (August 4-6, 2017) draws from all over the United States. We have folks that come from as far away as Seattle to be with us. I am most proud, but not surprised, by how the ECW members are not a fraternity, but are a family. We have great writers who aren't just great historians, but great people too. 

Lightning Round—Short Answers:
Favorite Regiment? 140th Pennsylvania 

Favorite Trans-Mississippi site? They fought the war all the way out there?

Most overrated person of the Civil War? Union: John Reynolds; Confederate: Joe Johnston—although A.P. Hill is a very close second (it really depends on what day of the week it is, to be fair). 

What is one Civil War book you would recommend as indispensable? 
All of our books.... What do you mean, I can't say that? Fine. Joseph T. Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse. 

What is one civil war-related question no one has ever asked you that you wish someone would?
Can I buy you a battlefield of your own? 
News & Notes
Steve Davis has a feature story in the April 2017 issue of Civil War Times, which is now available. “Would P.G.T. Lead the A.o.T.?” tells the story of how Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard almost took command of the Confederate Army of Tennessee in 1864. You can also check out Steve’s monthly “Critics Corner” column in Civil War News.

ECW author Rob Orrison and Bill Backus, co-authors of A Want of Vigilance: The Bristoe Station Campaign, are featured in the latest issue of Blue and Gray magazine. The issue focuses on newly preserved and protected ground in Prince William County, Virginia, as it relates to the Confederate blockade of the Potomac River. You can explore the issue and get your copy here.

Steward Henderson recently spoke to a crowd of 71 at the Regency at Chancellorsville. Steward's presentation was supported by many of his friends in the living history community. His presentation touched on battlefield preservation, walking trails, and available studies of the four battles fought in the area.

Chris Mackowski, like Steve Davis, has an article in the April issue of Civil War Times. "Opportunity Lost" gives visitors to the modern North Anna River battlefield some points to visit along with some information about what they would see at each spot. Mackowski is the author of ECWS book Strike Them a Blow: Battle Along the North Anna River

Kevin Pawlak, Ryan Quint, Dan Welch, and Bill Backus will be featured on a young historians panel during a presentation with the Mosby Heritage Area Association. These young historians, scholars, and authors will provide fresh perspectives on the Civil War, 152 years after the fact, on February 12. For more information, visit the MHA's website.

Dan Welch, blogger and co-author of Last Road North: A Guide to the Gettysburg Campaign, was recently featured as a guest on Civil War Talk Radio. You can listen to the full interview as a podcast by going to the Impediments of War website .

Upcoming Presentations


4th: Sarah Kay Bierle, “Waiting For News: Shenandoah Valley Homefront,” Living History Education at the Lincoln Memorial Shrine, Redlands, CA

21st: Chris Mackowski, “Chancellorsville: The High Tide of the Confederacy,” Fredericksburg (VA) Kiwanis Club

23rd: Chris Mackowski, “The Battle of the Bloody Angle,” Friends of Hanley Library, Rice Auditorium, the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, Bradford, PA, 7:00 p.m.


16th: Bert Dunkerly, “The Seven Days: Savages Station to Malvern Hill,” Chesapeake Civil War Round Table (MD)

18th: Second Bi-Annual Civil War Symposium at the Carnegie Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA. Featuring:

  • Dr. Julie Mujic–The Household War: An Examination of the Significance of the Household to the Fortunes of the Battlefield
  • Daniel Welch–A Fitting Tribute: Memorial Tributes to Abraham Lincoln
  • Kristopher D. White–The Cresting Tide: A Reassessment of Lee’s Leadership from the Seven Days to Chancellorsville
  • Eric J. Wittenberg–“Out Flew the Sabres”: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863.