Monday, October 25, 2010

Interview with Wallace Author

A retired U.S. Department of Defense employee who serves as a volunteer at the Monocacy National Battlefield, Gail Stephens, author of the new IHS Press book Shadow of Shiloh: Major General Lew Wallace in the Civil War, also lectures on the Civil War, teaches courses at area colleges, and gives battlefield tours. Here she talks about her experiences in writing about Wallace.

What inspired you to write a book about Lew Wallace's Civil War career?

I've been a volunteer at Monocacy National Battlefield, south of Frederick, Maryland, for ten years. On July 9, 1864, at the battle of Monocacy, Wallace, with 6,500 men, half of whom had never fought in a battle, held a veteran Confederate army of 14,000 for an entire day, giving Ulysses S. Grant time to reinforce a vulnerable Washington, D.C, only thirty miles to the south.

I was curious how a man who had accomplished this feat could have been out of field command between the fall of 1862 and March 1864. I was told that he had failed Grant at Shiloh on April 6, 1862, when he arrived too late to fight that day, and that Grant had gotten rid of him. That Wallace should have been so very careless, cowardly, or incompetent was difficult for me to reconcile with the man who fought at Monocacy. I decided to see what answers I could find in the primary sources and this book is the result.

How important were your actual visits to battlefields in writing the book?

Crucial. A battlefield must be seen to be interpreted and ground must be walked in order to understand why officers and men made the decisions they made. In October 2005, with seven other historians, I walked the entire route of Wallace's controversial April 6 march to the battlefield of Shiloh. What we learned that day in terms of the length, difficulty, and timing of the march is key to my conclusions about that controversy.

Just how good a general was Wallace?

I think that the battle of Monocacy and his defense of Cincinnati in September 1862 demonstrate how good he actually was. He understood the importance of terrain because at Monocacy he picked a position, on high bluffs with a river in his front, where he had an edge that would in part make up for his much smaller force. He placed his best troops--the veteran division from Grant's army--where he expected the most fighting, and his green troops along the periphery. He used his one six-gun battery of artillery judiciously to protect a bridge and to provide aid to his veteran division. Most important, he knew how long to fight and when to give it up.

At Cincinnati he showed that he was not only good at fighting but good at organizing. Between September 2 and 10, 1862, with Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith's Confederate army just eighty miles away, he assembled a force of 72,000 volunteers, completed seven miles of fortifications with eight artillery batteries, and armed eighteen steamboats to patrol the Ohio River, a herculean task. On September 10, when Major General Harry Heth's division of 10,000 moved on Cincinnati at Smith's order, Heth judged the city to well defended and retreated. Wallace had good military instincts, was a tough, scrappy fighter, and had a natural ability to lead men and choose where and how he would fight. However, Wallace had a problem with authority, and he was not a team player, fatal qualities in the army.

What was Wallace's greatest service to the Union cause during the war?

Wallace had some great military moments, his afternoon attack at Fort Donelson, which regained the potential Confederate escape route for the Union, his defense of Cincinnati, and his "brilliant little battle of Monocacy," which helped save Washington, DC, but one non-military event may trump those.

In 1864, when Wallace took command of the Middle Department, President Abraham Lincoln told him that he had a most important task--to ensure that slavery was abolished in Maryland by a constitutional process and without excessive military intervention. In previous elections, the Union military had exercised a heavy hand in secession-prone Maryland. The stakes were very high in 1864 when Maryland first prepared to vote on which delegates they would send to a constitutional convention where the key issue was whether to abolish slavery. The state's voters would then be asked whether they approved of the amended constitution. Lincoln desperately wanted one of the border states to abolish slavery via a peaceful constitutional process and demonstrate that democracy was firmly entrenched in the Union. Wallace worked closely with the Unionist governor of Maryland, Augustus Bradford, and local judges of election to ensure that the election was fair and peaceful, so his troops remained in their encampment. It worked. Slavery was abolished in Maryland on November 1, 1864, and Wallace had a 100-gun salute fired from Fort McHenry, the inspiration for "The Star-Spangled Banner." One Marylander wrote Wallace that his name would forever be associated "with a cause more enduring than that of many a stricken field--that of free institutions and their consolidation forever."

Did Wallace every achieve any kind of "peace" about what happened at Shiloh?

I don't think so. Shiloh was widely discussed and even though Grant exonerated him in his memoirs, but even after they were published, the criticism continued. For a man to whom honor was a tangible concept, this criticism was a constant thorn in his side. He fought the charges whenever and wherever he could, but they always pained him.

What is your next project?

I'm writing an essay on the role of national cemeteries in battlefield preservation, more specifically on whether the men who created the national cemeteries on Civil War battlefields like Gettysburg and Shiloh understood that in creating these hallowed places, they were preserving the core of what would become today's national battlefield parks. When that's published, I would like to dig more deeply into the 1864 advance on Washington, D.C., so memorably delayed by Wallace, in particular the reasons behind Robert E. Lee's decision to send an army to seize the Union capital, the reasons why the Union high command was so slow to realize Washington was vulnerable, and the repercussions from the campaign.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wallace's Civil War Career Explored

Thirty-two years after the battle of Shiloh Lew Wallace returned to the battlefield, mapping the route of his April 1862 march. Ulysses S. Grant, Wallace’s commander at Shiloh, expected Wallace and his Third Division to arrive early in the afternoon of April 6. Wallace and his men, however, did not arrive until nightfall, and in the aftermath of the bloodbath of Shiloh, Grant attributed Wallace’s late arrival to a failure to obey orders. By mapping the route of his march and proving how and where he had actually been that day, the sixty-seven-year-old Wallace hoped to remove the stigma of “Shiloh and its slanders.” That did not happen. Shiloh still defines Wallace’s military reputation, overshadowing the rest of his stellar military career and making it easy to forget that in April 1862 he was a rising military star, the youngest major general in the Union army.

Wallace was devoted to the Union, but he was also pursuing glory, fame, and honor when he volunteered to serve in April 1861. In Shadow of Shiloh, author Gail Stephens specifically addresses Wallace’s military career and its place in the larger context of Civil War military history. A central issue in the book is the tension between citizen-soldiers and West Pointers that occurred in the officer ranks. The general assumption in current Civil War histories is that the West Pointers were more competent at war than the citizen-soldiers. That was not true in Wallace’s case. He had a talent for battle, which he demonstrated at Fort Donelson, Monocacy, and even Shiloh. But Wallace’s disdain for military rules and protocol and his arrogance, fueled by early promotion, alienated his West Point superiors such as Grant and, especially, Henry Halleck, the general in chief of the Union armies.

Wallace was an extraordinary man—lawyer, politician, general, author, inventor, and adventurer. It is hoped that this book sheds new light on the long-standing issues surrounding Wallace’s Civil War career and puts his great service to the nation in perspective.

Stephens is a retired U.S. Department of Defense employee who serves as a volunteer at the Monocacy National Battlefield. She lectures on the Civil War, teaches courses at area colleges, and gives battlefield tours.

Shadow of Shiloh costs $27.95 and is available from the IHS's History Market.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

IHS Press Author Wins Award

IHS Press author and editor Ray E. Boomhower was named a winner of the 2010 Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award. Boomhower received the Regional Author award during a gala awards dinner at the Central Library in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday, October 9.

Public nominations were submitted from across the state and eligibility included any published writer who was born in Indiana or has lived in Indiana for at least five years. An eight-member, statewide Award Panel selected the winners in three categories and finalists from the pool of nominated authors:

• National Author - $10,000 prize: a writer with Indiana ties, but whose work is known and read throughout the country. National authors were evaluated on their entire body of work. Winner: Scott Russell Sanders

• Regional Author - $7,500 prize: A writer who is well-known and respected throughout the state of Indiana. Regional authors were evaluated on their entire body of work. Winner: Ray Boomhower; Finalists: Colleen Coble and Andrew Levy

• Emerging Author - $5,000 prize: A writer with only one published book. Emerging authors were evaluated on their single published work. Winner: Greg Schwipps; Finalists: Douglas Light and Micah Ling

In its second year, this award recognizes the contributions of Indiana authors to the literary landscape in Indiana and across the nation. The Award is a program of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Foundation, and is funded by the generosity of The Glick Fund, a fund of Central Indiana Community Foundation.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

IHS Press Authors Finalists in Best Books Competition

IHS Press authors Wes D. Gehring and Elizabeth O'Maley have been named as finalists in the 2010 Best Books of Indiana contest sponsored by the Indiana Center for the Book. The contest was created to honor Indiana's long and illustrious literary heritage and recognize Hoosier authors.

Gehring is a finalist in the nonfiction category for his book Steve McQueen: The Great Escape. O'Maley is a finalist in the children/young adult category for her book By Freedom's Light.

Twelve titles, published between January 1 and December 31, 2009, have been selected as finalists in the 2010 competition. A panel of judges in each of four categories considered all entries and granted awards at their discretion. The winners will be announced on or before Friday, October 15, 2010.

All current and past Best Books entries are available in the Indiana State Library's collections. Two copies of each entry circulate to State Library patrons and are available to most public, school, and academic libraries in Indiana via interlibrary loan. One copy does not circulate and remains in the State Library's collections indefinitely