UPDATE: Drew Wagenhoffer has a complimentary review of Parrish’s book on Civil War Books and Authors.
John Fox, the man behind Angle Valley Press, passed along this interview with Jim Parrish, author of the recently-released Wiregrass to Appomattox, a history of the 50th Georgia. I have a copy but have not yet had a chance to do more than skim it, but it looks good.
Q: You discovered that you had two great-great-grandfathers who served in the 50th Georgia. Just about anybody whose family has been in this country for more than 150 years has CW soldiers in their family tree. At what point did you decide to go beyond just gathering information on your relatives and take on the monumental task of writing a regimental history?
A: I made the decision to undertake the history of the regiment about ten years ago. While researching the military service of my two ancestors, I found no single source that followed the 50th Georgia from initial organization to the final surrender. There was so little written about the regiment and the brave men who served, I just decided that someone should tell the complete story. Once the decision was made, the rest, as they say, is history.
Q: How much research time do you estimate it took to compile Wiregrass to Appomattox?
A: It took the better part of ten years to research and write Wiregrass to Appomattox, the last two in intensive writing and tying up loose ends. Keep in mind that I did my research and writing while running a full-time business. I used vacation time and long weekends to do much of my research and battlefield visits. I have no idea how many hours I spent in research, but it would have to be in the high hundreds or maybe a few thousand.
Q: During your research travels you no doubt uncovered interesting and compelling stories that either involved the dead soldiers or even present day people, many of whom are soldiers’ descendants. Could you elaborate on anything that comes to mind?
A: I have met many interesting people during this project, including descendants of 50th Georgia soldiers. Documenting the final resting places of two Wiregrass soldiers was both interesting and rewarding. Both men were killed and initially buried at Gettysburg. Their remains were later removed, but the families could never determine the final resting place of these brave warriors. Working with descendants of the two soldiers and Mr. Chris Ferguson, author of Southerners at Rest, we were able to document that one is buried at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, while the other is buried at Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. Knowing the resting places of these two soldiers provided closure for the descendants.
Q: Which part of this project did you find the most difficult—digging up the primary material; researching the Compiled Service and Pension Records to assemble the soldiers’ roster; writing the actual story and weaving together the myriad interrelated parts to create a compelling story; working with the publisher, editor, cartographer and graphic artist to produce the book; or anything else that comes to mind?
A: A little of all the above. Prior to undertaking this project, I never really thought about the many things that go into writing and publishing a historical book. The most difficult thing was keeping the story historically accurate, while writing in a format that was interesting to the reader. That took quite a bit of time, and numerous re-writes. The visits to battlefields and reading the letters, diaries and remembrances of solders were the most interesting and fun parts of the project.
Q: As a newly published historian do you have any recommendations for other aspiring historians/writers who find a historical topic to research and write about?
A: Make sure you have a burning interest in the topic and are willing to spend a lot of time doing research to determine if there is enough material to write a book or article. Get as much advice as you can before undertaking the project. Talk to other authors if possible. Don’t repeat some of my early mistakes. Document everything the first time, because if you don’t, Murphy’s Law will require you to do it again. Also, don’t rush the process. Assume it will take twice as long as first envisioned. Like a fine wine, it takes the proper time. Finally, don’t go into the project with the idea of making a million dollars. The best thing will be the satisfaction of writing a good book, and maybe a small tax write-off for your expenses.
Q: Do you have any other historical projects that you might want to pursue in the future?
A: Interesting question. I don’t have another ten-year project in me, but I have two other ancestors in other little-known Georgia units. They could be worthy of another unit history or two.
Q: Do you foresee any potential 50th Georgia battlefield tours that you might lead?
A: I never considered that possibility, but it would be a lot of fun. All the 50th Georgia engagements were outside Georgia, and I’m not sure how many descendants would be able to travel to Virginia, Maryland or Pennsylvania. If there were enough interest, I would be honored to participate in a 50th Georgia battlefield tour.
Q: What are some of your most satisfying “post-publication” experiences, keeping in mind that the book has only been in circulation for a short time?
A: There have already been several very satisfying experiences. One was the sense of accomplishment and relief just to have this project finally completed. However, the most gratifying experience has been the positive response from descendants of soldiers who served in the 50th Georgia. I was nervous about their reaction when the book was first released. However, when a lady came up to me after my first speaking engagement, took my hand and emotionally thanked me on behalf of her great-great grandfather, I knew all the work had been well worth the effort. I have received numerous calls, emails and notes from other descendants, thanking me for writing the book. That is extremely gratifying, and humbling.
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