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Paul Taylor’s Comments on He Hath Loosed the Fateful Lightning

In a blog entry from September 29, 2005, I reviewed Paul Taylor’s book He Hath Loosed the Fateful Lightning: The Battle of Ox Hill (Chantilly) September 1, 1862. On October 23, Mr. Taylor was kind enough to post his comments following that blog entry. In the interest of allowing full disclosure, Mr. Taylor’s comments follow verbatim. I think you will find them most interesting.

Dear Mr. Schulte,

Thank you for taking the time to present a thoughtful critique of my book on the 1862 battle of Ox Hill, also known on the Union side as the battle of Chantilly. It was routinely overlooked for 140 years until a trio of books on the engagement, mine included, were published within a sixteen month span in 2002- 2003. I do not know either of the other authors, Mr. David Welker or Mr. Charles Mauro, though apparently we all lived within a relatively few miles of what’s left of the battlefield and were members of the same roundtable. I’d like to imagine that the old adage “great minds think alike” was at work when each of us realized that this somewhat “lost” battle had never been given a book-length treatment and were therefore working on our respective manuscripts simultaneously though independently of each other!

I’ve gone through all three books in detail and have concluded that each volume presents something of importance and interest not found in the other two. Mr. Welker does an excellent job of providing background biography on Generals Stevens and Kearny, which then dovetails nicely into his comprehensive presentation of the battle. Back out this background material and I believe you’ll find that Mr. Welker’s narrative of the Aug 31 – Sept 2 timeframe is of comparable length to my own. On the other hand, Mr. Mauro’s 96-page work presents a much shorter narrative of the battle at Chantilly that serves essentially as a backdrop for his stunning collection of high-altitude images and modern photographs that he took of the remaining battlefield and surrounding environs.

Serious students of the battle that I know own all three works, in part for the reasons mentioned above. However, with regards to the actual recounting of this very brief engagement (3 to 4 hrs), I am uncertain that a more detailed, thorough account can or even needs to be written. Noted Civil War historian Dr. James Robertson echoed this belief in a review of my work in which he wrote that I had produced “as complete a history of Chantilly as we are likely to get and to need.” Further, as Mr. Welker and myself both point out, primary source material on this engagement is relatively scarce, as a good number of the major players were killed either at Ox Hill or sometime over the next two and a half weeks during the Antietam campaign. Longer does not necessarily equal better, as most book editors will point out. Of course, if a trove of heretofore undiscovered primary source material appears in the future pertaining to this battle, then I would have to reassess my position. Even still, I may very well be wrong and if such a work is written, I for one will be first in line to buy it!

With regards to White Mane, I have recently learned of the serious criticisms leveled at them. I can only share my experience. This Ox Hill/ Chantilly book was my second overall but the first that could be considered to be of a scholarly nature. To be candid, I chose White Mane over others mainly because I felt they had a solid distribution network and were well known within the Civil War book-buying public. Being a novice, I assumed that thorough copy-editing and checking of sources was part of the game at any publisher. In addition and at the very outset, they supplied me with an author’s guide that stipulated in detail that the notes and bibliography were to be laid out per Chicago Manual of Style guidelines. The lack of organization and detail in the bibliographies of several recent WM offerings that I’ve examined is therefore confusing.

With my first book, I know that the publisher sent the ms. to a professional historian who read the ms. over to ensure essential accuracies. I do not know whether WM did this or not. I do know that in numerous instances, I had to supply White Mane with the appropriate “permission to use” letter before they would proceed with the publishing process. Such was the case with quite a few photos as well as the jacket painting. The maps were created by a White Mane staffer from my original ideas. All in all, my experience was a good one.

Paul Taylor

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