Civil War Talk Radio: September 5, 2008

by Brett Schulte on September 6, 2008 · 1 comment

Air Date: 090508
Subject: Front Royal and Winchester
Books: Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester & The Great Comeback: How Abraham Lincoln Beat the Odds to Win the 1860 Republican Nomination
Guest: Gary Ecelbarger

Summary: Gary Ecelbarger discusses his somewhat new book on Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester and his brand new book on Lincoln’s election in 1860.

Brett’s Summary: Gary Ecelbarger, author of several books on Jackson’s Valley Campaign, discusses his latest, Three Days in the Shenandoah.  Gary only recently went into the study of history full time.  In the interview, he professes his utmost respect for trained historians, especially military historians.  But he also believes academic historians should be more accepting of the large non-academic interest in the topic.

The three days in the Shenandoah referred to in the title are May 23-25, 1862, during which time the battles of Front Royal and Winchester were fought.  Ecelbarger calls this the “heart of the campaign.”  He asserts both war departments were affected to an unusual degree by these three days.  The author does cover the tactical situation in detail as he did in his earlier book on Kernstown, but in this book he also focuses on the decisions made by the opposing leaders on both sides in Washington and Richmond.

The Battles of Front Royal and Winchester were small battles, Ecelbarger admits, but with outsized strategic ramifications.  Banks’ defeat at Front Royal and the possible capture of his army by Stonewall Jackson led to the need for a decision by Lincoln.  Should he send reinforcements to the Valley or allow Banks to handle the situation by himself?  Ecelbarger believes Lincoln greatly overreacted by sending McDowell’s large Union Corps on “what was essentially a wild goose chase.”  These were men which had been tapped to reinforce McClellan on the Peninsula.

Gerry asks Gary Ecelbarger the same question he earlier asked Scott Patchan: Why is tactical history important?  He compares the large interest in tactical history to the large interest in Playboy magazine, and goes on to say it doesn’t teach us anything.  In this case, though, Gerry believes Ecelbarger has succeeded in telling us why in the pages of his book.  Gary has a thoughtful response to this question.  I get the sense that Gerry does not believe tactical history on its own, even if that history covers a previously untouched battle, is all that important.

Gerry and Gary also talk a bit about Gary’s criticism of Jackson’s generalship during these three days.  Gary mentioned he does not go into a book looking to revise anything.  Instead, he tries to learn as much as possible and present a accurate account of what happened.  He believes “revision shouldn’t be a pejorative unless it is agenda driven.”

Gerry closes by asking Gary about his sometimes graphic description of wounds incurred during the campaign.  He admitted to at times feeling uncomfortable with these detailed descriptions.  Gary explained why he did this, especially in reference to a cavalry charge shortly after Front Royal on the evening of May 23 which routed a far larger number of infantry.  He believes readers will get a fuller picture of this attack by giving readers an appreciation of the panic which could result from such an attack when it was well executed.

To close out the hour, Gary and Gerry discuss Ecelbarger’s brand new book on Lincoln’s somewhat miraculous election to President in 1860.  Gary goes over a bit why he decided to write another book on Lincoln, one of the most written about people in history.  Gerry let slip that he read a manuscript which is pretty much on this exact same topic.  It will be interesting to see if that manuscript gets published now.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC.

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