Mac Wyckoff is the author of A History of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment: Lee’s Reliables, a new entry in the South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set published by Broadfoot Publishing. He has been a student of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment for over 20 years, wrote a unit history of the 3rd South Carolina (which is the first edition of this book), and also runs the informative South Carolina in the Civil War web site, making Mr. Wyckoff a perfect candidate to write this book in the series. In my recent review of A History of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment: Lee’s Reliables, I called this book “arguably the best volume in the South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set written to date.” The following interview was recently conducted with Mac Wyckoff. Enjoy!
BRS: Mr. Wyckoff, thank you for agreeing to an interview with TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog.
MW: Thank you for the opportunity.
BRS: Feel free to tell us a little bit about yourself. When, where, and how did you become interested in the Civil War?
MW: I grew up in Oregon where there is virtually no knowledge or interest in the Civil War. As a history major at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon I heard a total of one lecture on the Civil War. That was a comparison of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the Willamette Valley of Oregon where the college was located. The lecture focused on similarities such as both being farming areas and the unusual feature that in both valleys the rivers run from south to north. In the fall of 1975 I got my first job as a historian at Fort Stevens State Park at the mouth of the Columbia River. It was named after Isaac Ingalls Stevens a territorial governor of Washington (across the river from the fort), but better known to your readers as a Civil War general killed at Chantilly. The fort was built to protect the entrance to the Columbia River from Confederate raiders in the Pacific. Ironically its gun platforms were completed on April 9, 1865, the day Lee surrendered at Appomattox. During the Spanish American War, several concrete gun emplacements were constructed and named after soldiers like David Russell of Civil War fame killed at the 3rd Battle of Winchester. I knew nothing about Civil War generals like Stevens or Russell or the battles in which they died. The forts claim to fame came in June of 1942 when it was shelled by a Japanese submarine, the only fortification in the continental United States attacked during the 20th century. I was the first historian at the park with the job of researching the history of the fort and supervising the restoration effort.
After the term of my employment ended I applied for jobs with the National Park Service. In the spring of 1977 I was hired at Fort Sumter National Monument. This was a perfect place for me as I had developed an interest in coastal fortifications which is a theme of Fort Sumter National Monument. I was the first civilian to live in the fort since the workers who constructed the fort. It was a great place to live and work with my interest in coastal fortifications. However, there was not a lot to do in the evenings living along on a man-made island in the middle of Charleston Harbor. I enjoyed the sunsets, listened to the radio and could watch all of three local television stations. That left a lot of time to read. Next to my little room was one of the park libraries which contained books written about the Civil War. Since my job involved talking to visitors about the beginning of the war, I read a lot about the beginning of the war, but still had only a faint and general knowledge of the bigger picture of the war. On my days off I explored South Carolina which is different from my home state in almost every way.
That winter I took a week off and journeyed to the Mid-Atlantic area where I visited Civil War battlefields (Petersburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Antietam, and Gettysburg) for the first time. Unlike many of my co-workers in the years to come who had grown up reading and visiting Civil War Battlefields, I was 29 years-old when I first stepped on to a battlefield.
After my appointment at Fort Sumter ended in early 1978, I was hired at Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi. By now I had developed an interest in the Civil War and had acquired books to read. I also visited Vicksburg several times.
In the fall of 1978 I was hired at the National Visitor Center in Union Station in Washington, D.C. Six weeks later the National Park Service was basically kicked out of Union Station so that the building could be returned to a train station and shopping mall. I transferred to the National Mall. Living in Northern Virginia presented many opportunities to explore the nearby battlefields. In the spring of 1979 I left the National Park Service to get married and return to my beloved Oregon.
I continued to read about the Civil War and in the spring of 1981 I was hired by Shiloh National Military Park. This was my first job as a historian on a battlefield. Since nearly 100% of the Shiloh is preserved, I spent much time exploring the battlefield. One of my duties was to inventory every monument, information tablet, and cannon on the battlefield. Shiloh has one of the largest collection of these things in the country. While many of these are obvious to tourists, others are more obscure, such as a cannon I found in someone’s backyard petunia garden. Although the garden was private property, technically by law the cannon occupied park property. I also explored nearby battlefields of Corinth, Tupelo, Brices Cross Roads, Fort Donelson, and Stones River.
In the fall of 1983 I transferred to Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Here I became involved in a Civil War Round Table and began to lecture of the war and lead more serious battlefield tours. Two of us spent our lunch hours finding every monument, information tablet, and cannon on the battlefield. The park has so many that this took seventeen months. I believe I am the only person who has seen every monument, information tablet, and cannon at Shiloh and Chickamauga.
In the fall of 1986, I transferred to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military which contains the four battlefields around Fredericksburg. Working for Bob Krick, for the first time, I was working with a group of serious Civil War historians. It was here that I really learned how to lecture, lead tours, and conduct research. Members of our staff spent much of our days off seriously visiting the Eastern Theatre battlefields from Petersburg to Gettysburg and in visiting research libraries. It was at this time that I started researching Kershaw’s Brigade and spent several weeks a year in South Carolina as well as Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill libraries. I acquired the Compiled Service Records for the 2nd and 3rd South Carolina. I borrowed on intra-library loan every South Carolina newspaper that exists on micro-film from the Civil War era and some from the post-war years. I spent probably five years looking through these service records and newspapers.
I retired at the end of September, 2008 to return to my beloved Oregon.
BRS: Like Lee Sturkey, you have studied one South Carolina unit for 20+ years. Why and how did you become interested in the 3rd South Carolina?
MW: When I transferred from Chickamauga to Fredericksburg in 1986, I was asked to specialize in a person or unit. Since my goal was to broaden my background of the war, I decided that studying a person was too narrow a focus and decided a brigade was the right size unit to study. I wanted to study a unit that fought at Chickamauga and in all four major battles in the Fredericksburg area. That limited my choices to Longstreet’s Corps. By a process of limitation I finally got down to Kershaw’s Brigade because it was closer to go to South Carolina to do research than to Alabama. Mississippi, or Texas, no one had really studied these regiments, and because at the time I lived on Marye’s Heights along the Sunken Road where Kershaw’s men had fought. I first studied and wrote about the 2nd South Carolina. I then moved on to the 3rd South Carolina.
BRS: This particular volume in the South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set focuses exclusively on the 3rd South Carolina. In a recent interview with Tom Broadfoot, the publisher mentioned that you had already had a manuscript prepared for the unit. I also read in the book that this is the second edition of your book. It strikes me as a particularly good idea by Broadfoot Publishing to solicit authors who have already written unit histories in one form or another to do the volumes for those units in the South Carolina Regimental Roster-Set. How did you participation in this series come about?
MW: For several years I had been working on the complete re-writing of my book on the 3rd South Carolina. I needed a publisher. After Mike Wadsworth told me that he had talked to Tom Broadfoot about publishing my book, I contacted Tom who told me about the new series he was publishing. Through my many contacts in South Carolina I have subsequently worked with Tom Broadfoot and Bob Krick in finding authors for the remaining books of the series. For many years I have worked with Jim Clary whose book on the 15th South Carolina and Sam Davis whose book on the 3rd South Carolina Battalion will be published in the next round of this series.
BRS: I thought your use of the letters and diaries of members of the 3rd South Carolina was very well done and added tremendously to my enjoyment of A History of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment: Lee’s Reliables. I almost felt like I knew men such as James Nance, “Drate” Rutherford, and especially Tally Simpson. How did you go about selecting which letters and diary entries to use in the book?
MW: I had used Tally Simpson’s and James Nance’s letters in the first volume of my book. On a trip to South Carolina some friends I was staying with presented me with a huge pile of letters written by William “Drate” Rutherford. Their relative had inherited the letters and he was going to throw them away when he invited them over to see the letters before he destroyed them. They responded by showing him a copy of the first edition of my book on the 3rd South Carolina. That led to him saving the letters and making a copy for me and a copy for the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina. It took me over six months to transcribe the huge pile of letters. The rich content of the letters convinced me that I needed to re-write my book and frame it around the story of the men of the 3rd South Carolina. Since the publication of my first edition, my interest in the war had evolved from the story of the battles to the story of the men of the unit. Near the end of the writing process, the South Caroliniana Library presented me with a fairly large collection of letters written by Y.J. Pope. After transcribing these letters the connection between Nance, the colonel for much of the war, Rutherford, the lieutenant colonel for much of the war, and Pope, the adjutant for much of the war, became clear. I retained the story contained in the Simpson’s letters, elaborated on the story of Nance, and added the stories of Rutherford and Pope. To this I added whatever other information I could find that would personalize the story of this unit. Through additional research I had obtained additional source material. After the publication of the first edition, numerous descendants of the soldiers had learned of my interest in the 3rd South Carolina and had sent me photos, personal information on the soldiers to add to the roster and letters and diaries which I used to expand the narrative story. More source material and a better understanding of the war allowed me to greatly expand on several campaigns of the war including the East Tennessee Campaign Overland Campaign, 1st Deep Bottom, and the Carolinas Campaign.
The title of my book is A History of the 3rd South Carolina, not The History of the 3rd South Carolina. It is the story of some of the men in the regiment, not all of them. I know very little about hundreds of the men who served in the 3rd South Carolina. If they wrote letters, dairies, or memoirs, I have not been able to find them. In most cases the documents no longer exist, but there is one major letter collection of 3rd South Carolina letters that the family has chosen to keep to themselves. The thoughts and experiences of these other soldiers remain unknown.
BRS: The 3rd South Carolina first saw action at Savage Station. In what would be considered a smaller fight at Savage Station, the 3rd South Carolina lost its third highest number of casualties of the entire war. I seem to recall an article in one of William Miller’s three books on the Peninsula Campaign which focused on Kershaw’s Brigade at Savage Station. Were you the author of that essay?
MW: Yes, I wrote an essay of Kershaw’s Brigade at Savage Station for one of William Miller’s books of essays concerning the Peninsula and Seven Days Campaign. Morningside Press had earlier published my essay on Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg in their publication Gettysburg. I also wrote the introduction to the Broadfoot edition of D.A. Dickert’s A History of Kershaw’s Brigade. Although Savage Station was a relatively minor engagement, the four regiments of Kershaw’s Brigade supported by Kemper’s Virginia Battery fought with minimal assistance and paid a high price for their effort.
BRS: In many accounts of the Battle of Fredericksburg, Cobb’s Georgians get all of the credit for beating back the Federal assaults. However, they had some help, including Kershaw’s Brigade (of which the 3rd was a part). In fact, the 3rd South Carolina suffered its second most casualties of the entire war at Fredericksburg. What role did Kershaw’s Brigade play there?
MW: Cobb’s Brigade held the Sunken Road along a conveniently located Stone Wall during the Battle of Fredericksburg. Two North Carolina brigades of Ransom’s Division held Marye’s Heights above the road. Soon after the battle began, Cobb was mortally wounded and Kershaw assumed command of this part of the field. Kershaw brought initially the 2nd and 8th South Carolina to the Sunken Road and later the 3rd and 7th South Carolina took position around the Marye House. The 15th South Carolina eventually arrived and supported the 2nd and 8th South Carolina, Cobb’s Brigade, and elements of Ransom’s Division along the Sunken Road. The 3rd South Carolina Battalion guarded the southern flank of the Marye’s Heights sector of the battlefield.
While Fredericksburg is usually remembered for the slaughter of Union soldiers in front of Marye’s Heights, the 3rd South Carolina ended up at the wrong place at the wrong time. Six companies of The 3rd South Carolina rushed forward to secure a position on what I call the “killing knoll,” slightly northeast of the Marye House. Arriving at the knoll, the men immediately hit the ground under severe fire from Howard’s and Hancock’s divisions. The top seven commanders were quickly shot. Colonel James Nance despite a severe leg wound managed to pull the regiment back to a safer position in front of the house. My visit to these exact spots made it obvious why Nance initially led the regiment to the “killing knoll”, why they were shot up, and why they retreated to their second position on the heights. The unit lost 41% of their men. Five of the six companies that fought on the “killing knoll” lost between 47% and 89% of their men. A sixth company that fought on the knoll and the four companies that arrived later and did not fight on the “killing knoll” suffered much few casualties as did the 7th South Carolina on much safer ground immediately to their right.
BRS: Experienced leadership grew to crisis levels in the later part of the war. You mention several times how lack of experienced leaders at the regimental and brigade level severely reduced the combat effectiveness of the 3rd and Kershaw’s former brigade after Jimmy Nance’s death at the Wilderness. Was this a widespread phenomenon in the entire Army of Northern Virginia in 1864-1865? How did the experience of Kershaw’s Brigade compare with those of other regiments in the ANV?
MW: While I have not studied other brigades of Lee’s army in the depth I have studied Kershaw’s Brigade, many other Southern brigades suffered a similar fate in the spring and summer of 1864. The Overland Campaign, Wilderness to the Battle for Petersburg May 5-June 19, is the bloodiest campaign in American history. Both sides were devastated especially in the loss of high ranking officers. Both sides had only a limited number of good officers. By the summer of 1864, heavy casualties among officers on both sides reduced the combat effectiveness. In my book, I make the point that Kershaw’s Brigade saved Lee’s army from disaster on May 6 at Wilderness. In doing so, the brigade suffered relatively few casualties, but among them were some of its most effective combat leaders. Importantly I argue was the loss of Colonel Nance of the 3rd South Carolina. Holding a strong position two days later at Spotsylvania they again save Lee’s army. But after there was a sharp decline in efficiency in their next battles – North Anna on May 23, Cold Harbor on June 1, and during the 1st Deep Bottom Campaign. In the early weeks of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign they again suffer few casualties in numbers, but they included the last of their good leaders leading to their disaster at Cedar Creek.
BRS: In my recent review of A History of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment: Lee’s Reliables, I was especially impressed with your maps, especially those drawn by Tim Belshaw and credited to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Are these maps for sale to the general public? If so, how would someone go about getting a copy?
MW: Tim Belshaw made the maps for my friend Jim Clary who wrote a book on the 15th which fought initially with Drayton’s Brigade and with Kershaw’s brigade after the Maryland Campaign. The maps were made so that I could also use them in my book. I used some of Tim’s maps that he made for the 15th South Carolina book and supplemented those with maps that appeared in the first edition of my 3rd South Carolina book for the early part of the war before the 15th South Carolina joined the brigade. I realize that created a book with a variety of quality of maps. Jim Clary’s book was initially self published and a second edition will appear in Broadfoot’s South Carolina Regimental Series.
BRS: The 3rd South Carolina was involved in the Petersburg Campaign, one of my personal favorites to study. You mention several times throughout the book that as the war goes on, it becomes more and more difficult to find good information on the regiment. What kinds of obstacles did you face in this regard and how did you attempt to overcome those obstacles?
MW: Kershaw’s Brigade was only minimally involved in the Petersburg Campaign. There are no After Action Reports providing the brigade’s basic story of what they did at Petersburg. There are few casualty lists and except for the Greensboro Surrender Rolls, there is no information in the soldier’s Compiled Service Records after June 30, 1864. But the biggest obstacle was that by the Petersburg Campaign most of the letter writers and diarists had been killed, captured, or discharged for medical reasons. With the help of Chris Calkins and the staff at Petersburg National Battlefield, I was able to patch together a very basic narrative of what happened based upon what few accounts I could find.
A major obstacle in dealing with the 1st Deep Bottom portion of the campaign was that my biggest source was D.A. Dickert’s A History of Kershaw’s Brigade. Dickert served in the 3rd South Carolina and was a wonderful story teller, but he wrote his book in 1899. He often confused events and got things out of chronological order. His account of 1st Deep Bottom is terribly flawed. With the help of Bryce Suderow we were able to figure out what really happened in that battle. Bryce kindly shared his not yet published manuscript of Deep Bottom with me and he and Bobby Krick of Richmond National Battlefield Park took me on a detailed tour of the 1st Deep Bottom Battlefield.
My long time friend Ted Mahr author of the best book on Cedar Creek worked closely with me in understanding the Shenandoah Valley campaign and shared information with me. Rich Kleese a local resident and Civil War student spent several days taking me to specific spots on the Hupp’s Hill and Cedar Creek battlefields. Jim Clary and I explored the routes followed by Kershaw’s Brigade in the 1865 South Carolina Campaign against Sherman and Mark Bradley (the author of the best books on the Carolinas Campaign) joined us in touring the Averaboro and Bentonville battlefield.
In fact, to accurately tell the story of the battles I spent many days touring all the battlefields in which Kershaw’s Brigade participated. I was accompanied by other Civil War historians on these tours including at least one day of each battlefield with a leading expert on that battle. For example, a group of people with the Knoxville Civil War Round Table and local relic hunters took me on a full day tour tracing the route of Kershaw’s Brigade in the Knoxville Campaign. Another historian accompanied me in driving as close as possible the exact route followed by the brigade from Fredericksburg to Gettysburg. We then walked the route followed by the brigade in the Battle of Gettysburg. I have walked the ground at Gettysburg on numerous occasions with various members of the staff at Gettysburg National Military and other Gettysburg experts. Dennis Frye, the leading expert on the Maryland Campaign, took me around Antietam and one cold December day we hiked the exact route followed by the 3rd South Carolina in climbing Maryland Heights and examined the ground they fought on. Mike Miller led me around the North Anna Battlefield. As mentioned above, I spent several years walking the Chickamauga and Fredericksburg area battlefields
To understand a battle, you must spend a lot of time on the actual battlefield. In reading a Civil War book it becomes obvious to me if the author had actually spent much time on the battlefield.
Another thing I did was to submit each battle chapter to at least two experts on that battle to review the chapter for historical accuracy.
BRS: As I mentioned to Lee Sturkey in our recent interview, many unit histories of those units which participated in the war in Virginia quite often “gloss over” the fighting after Gettysburg. The typical unit history shoves the usual “Wilderness-Spotsylvania-Cold Harbor-The Crater-Five Forks-Appomattox” refrain into only one or two short chapters. As did Sturkey’s volume in this series, your book seems to cover the actions of the 3rd South Carolina at Deep Bottom and in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 in as much detail as possible given the sources. What are your thoughts on the Petersburg Campaign and its relative lack of coverage in Civil War literature?
MW: I know less about the Petersburg Campaign than other major campaign of the war. For one thing, Kershaw’s Brigade, as mentioned above, played only a minimal role in the Petersburg Campaign so in writing my books I did not need to understand all the numerous battles of the campaign. Secondly is the large number of actions of the campaign. In the last 20-30 years there have been several good books on Petersburg or specific aspects of the campaign. I would refer interested readers to the writings of Chris Calkins, Will Green, and Noah Andre Trudeau as well as Dick Sommers classic Richmond Redeemed. If Bryce Suderow gets his manuscript published, it will fill a major void in 1st and 2nd Deep Bottom.
A nice thing about studying the Petersburg Campaign is the battlefield land acquisition in recent years by Petersburg National Battlefield, Civil War Preservation Trust, and the establishment and expansion of Pamplin Civil War Park. Understanding a battle involves the combination of reading and walking the battlefields which are now more possible than in any previous time.
BRS: I noticed the rosters were in smaller type in your book than in the other three current titles in the series. Was this intentional? If so, why was this decision made? The smaller type didn’t detract from the information, so this is more of an observation than any kind of criticism.
MW: Each book in the series is done differently. I used the smaller type for the roster to reduce the number of pages which saves publication money.
BRS: I have been a frequent visitor to your South Carolina in the Civil War web site. I was especially impressed with the Civil War in Charleston area. If you could, tell us a little bit about what you do there.
MW: I developed my South Carolina in the Civil War website over ten years ago to fill what I thought was a void. I did not develop the Civil War in Charleston site which is an excellent website, I linked to it. My website was intended to be a list of links to information on South Carolina in the war including battles, soldiers, events, and research sources such as libraries and historical societies. Today there are several similar websites to mine and I no longer update my website.
About the same time I started an annual conference on South Carolina in the Civil War. Again the purpose was to fill a void. In the middle 1990′s I wished to attend a conference on South Carolina in the war to expand my understanding of South Carolina’s role in the war and 19th century South Carolina history in general. There was no conference so I started my own which I ran from 400 miles away in Fredericksburg. After managing the conference for seven or eight years I turned control over to South Carolinians – the staff at The South Carolina Department of Archives and History and The South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. The conference is held annually on the third weekend of September at the Archives in Columbia.
BRS: A History of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment: Lee’s Reliables was actually a second edition of your original book on the regiment. I noticed that you also have written a volume on the 2nd Carolina as well. Do you plan to write a second edition of that book for the South Carolina Regimental-Roster Set series? Also, do you have any other book projects in the works or on the backburner?
MW: I am currently working on editing the letters of a member of the 3rd South Carolina, Thomas Shields. The University of South Carolina Press is interested in publishing the letters. For many years I have written columns for the Fredericksburg newspaper on the theme of developing the human side of the warrior. Those columns can be found in the archives of the website for the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star newspaper. As I get older it becomes harder and harder to put in the necessary work in researching, writing, and editing to produce a quality book. I spent nearly $10,000 of my own money on getting my 3rd South Carolina book professionally edited and set up to make it print ready. I will only receive a small fraction of that amount in payments for my book. I am not sure I can afford to do another book. If my health holds up, and I can afford it, and if Broadfoot continues the Series, I will consider a second edition of my 2nd South Carolina after I finish my current project. I have kept up in adding information to the roster, but the narrative needs a lot of work. I doubt I will make the same kind of all out effort that I put into the second edition of my 3rd South Carolina.
I would add that I was disappointed to learn that my book had so many editing problems since about two years and over $4000 were spent in the editing process. I think what happened is that one editor believed in combining short sentences into long sentences, flipping the end of a sentence to the beginning, and was unconcerned about using inactive verbs. A second editor then wanted the sentences returned to their shorter length, flipping the sentence structure back, and turning inactive to active sentences. This ended up in creating confusion and mistakes that you mentioned in your review. I take full responsibility for the mistakes. I appreciate your kind and fair review of my book.
BRS: Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions Mac. I appreciate it and I’m sure TOCWOC readers will too.
MW: Thank you again for the opportunity.
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