Wednesday, August 3, 2022

What Am I Even Doing Here?

 So yeah, its been almost two years since I've posted on this blog. Holy cow. What prompted me to come here today? Well, you see, I was going through a lot of my bookmarked websites and deleting links that were no longer active. When I got to the folder labeled "Blogs" I thought to myself, I wonder how many of these are still active? I didn't know because by and large I don't even look at them anymore. The two that I do look at are the ones that post links to their latest posts on Facebook and/or send me email alerts.

I was not surprised to see that most of the blogs I follow are basically dormant. One hasn't had a new post since 2012! One must be a disciplined and dedicated writer to keep up a blog, I think. It is akin to keeping up a diary or journal in my mind. So, how long had it been since I posted? Here I am - 23 months since the last time. I am not going to try to catch up on the past two years in this post (or any subsequent posts, for that matter). But what am I doing here? I have questioned whether I should keep this blog going or not in the past, and I always chose to leave it up just in case I got a mind to start posting more regularly. Why start over from scratch somewhere down the road if I already have the established platform here? But really, am I going to one day come back to regular musings on here?

I think blogging became somewhat of a lost art (and maybe a bit of a chore) as social media became ascendant. When I started this blog, I had barely dipped my toes into the world of social media, but then social media took off and I went along on the ride. I am on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Slack (for whatever that's worth; I still haven't figured out what the heck to do with Slack). They all serve their own purpose for me. I have noticed at least one prominent blogger has recently abandoned social media and gone back to simply blogging. I understand their reasons for doing so and everyone has their own way of handling the cesspool that social media can become if you let it. But social media is still a very important tool for me in keeping up with my hobbies and friends that I want to keep up with.

I'm not going to answer any of my own questions today. I'll give it some more thought and decide sometime, somewhere down the road what to do with this site. Maybe I should broaden the focus and start doing craft beer reviews, disc golf stuff, and concert reports along with the history stuff. Then again, that might get too chaotic. For now, I'll just leave things as they are and surprise myself by how long its been the next time I check in. 😁

Thursday, September 10, 2020

A Change in My Reading Habits

In March, as the quarantine was beginning I posted a photo of a group of books I intended to read while working from home:
I managed to read all of those except the Living History Anthology. At the same time, I was also working on a number of writing projects for "Civil War Navy, The Magazine." By the time I returned to working in the office around mid-May, I realized that I was really burned out on reading history books (or at least the typical sorts of things I usually read). I set out a plan to broaden my horizons by reading things that wouldn't normally be in my reading pile, including some different types of history books. On the one hand, I was still reading history, but a different style. I finished this book by the late Tony Horwitz:
I hadn't read anything by him since Confederates in the Attic and that was 20 years ago. I found Spying on the South to be very engaging and entertaining, spurring me to pick up a copy of Olmstead's book (though I haven't read it yet). In the same vein (sort of) I read two books by Colin Woodard:

American Nations has been on my shelf for years and I started reading it at one point, but never got too far. It is a wonderful book that looks at the founding of the various regions of the United States in a unique way. I am actually thinking of using this in my American History survey course. Union was a recent selection of the History Book Club and it did not disappoint. A unique history of the country from the Federal period to the 1920s, told through the lens of four or five people. I learned a lot of things I did not know and it was a different approach to writing history than what I normally read. I am getting ready to start another by Woodard, American Character:

This summer's racial upheaval spurred me to read some things outside of my normal wheelhouse, which is probably long overdue:
Having read about Baldwin in David Blight's American Oracle I decided to pick up The Fire Next Time and I knew that I had long overlooked Coates' Between the World and Me. Both books have been enlightening and should be read by many more folks out there who are having a difficult time understanding the current climate. 

So all of this seems pretty much history related, right? Not to worry, friends; I did stray farther afield than that. To start with, I read Scott Stokely's autobiography Growing Up Disc Golf. For those who don't know, Stokely was widely hailed as the second best disc golfer of his generation, behind 12-time world champ Ken Climo. Stokely was the bad boy of the sport, who never did things the conventional way. Its a different sort of read in that Stokely writes as if he's narrating or telling a story. At times its very stream of conscience, but its entertaining and you can learn a lot about the early days of the sport.

 I also picked up the memoir of Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman, Hard to Handle. The Black Crowes have long been one of my favorite bands and this book did not disappoint, although it has changed my opinion of some members of the band.

In another departure, I read Into the Wild. Though I own the soundtrack to the movie because I'm a fan of Eddie Vedder, I had not seen the movie, nor read the book. I knew the very basic story, but the book was a gripping account that I would recommend to anyone. I do plan to try find the movie somewhere and watch it now.
I am even diving into some fiction. Upon the recommendation of one of my favorite musicians, BJ Barham, I decided to give the work of David Joy a try and randomly selected this one start. Joy is a North Carolina author, based in the mountains, where his books are set. I'm looking forward to getting started on this:
What's next, you may ask. Aside from the aforementioned Woodard book, I have two in the pile to follow David Joy. One is a continuance of my reading from Baldwin and Coates, while the other is another non-fiction human interest sort of thing. I'll let you know how it all turns out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Mea Culpa

I am writing today to correct a misrepresentation from an earlier post. An article was published in the Winter 2020 issue of Civil War Navy, The Magazine about the US Navy's role in the Battle of New Bern in March 1862. I mentioned in a blog post last year that I coauthored the article, but never mentioned the primary author by name. The primary author of that article is Steve Shaffer of New Bern. Steve has been involved in the New Bern Civil War Roundtable and New Bern Battlefield for many years and is part of a large and enthusiastic group of Civil War historians in a town known more for its history as the colonial capitol of North Carolina. What they have done over the years is quite impressive.

Steve had researched and written the article, sending it to me and asking for comments and suggestions. I thought that it would be a good fit for the magazine, and Steve graciously offered to add my name as coauthor for help in getting it published. The editor liked the article and made numerous editing suggestions. My role in this project was to respond to those editing suggestions and to format the citations. In answering the editor's requests, I added some material to the manuscript (usually extra information or quotes from the Official Records, or other things of that nature). I also worked with the editor to select some of the images used in the finished article. All revisions that came back to me from the editor were sent to Steve for his comment and approval before being finalized. The groundwork for this article (research and original draft) were Steve's.

I never intended to misrepresent my role in this project, but by not including Steve's name in the blog I did just that. For that, I humbly apologize to Steve; I never meant any slight. The issue was brought to my attention and I felt that a public apology was necessary.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Finished a Few Books (Two are "Must Have")

I've been plowing through a lot of reading lately, trying to finish some things up. The stack on my desk keeps getting taller, but I have made some progress. I was recently asked to review two books for the Nautical Research Journal, a publication I review books for quite frequently (a dozen reviews over the past decade or so). Along with getting through those two, I finished one I've been working on for a few months now.

R. Thomas Campbell's latest, Confederate Ironclads at War was the first review. If you know Civil War naval history, you know Campbell. He's published no fewer than 20 books and who knows how many articles over the past quarter century. The problem is, he has started recycling a lot of material (and considering that some of his earlier works are out of print that isn't entirely problematic). I'll share the review when it is published, but suffice it to say this book is good, and if you are really interested in Confederate ironclads and don't already own a lot of Campbell's previous works, you may want to pick it up.

The second review was Our Little Monitor by Anna Gibson Holloway and Jonathan White. Again, I won't spoil the review, but folks, do yourself a favor and get this book! It should have a place on every Civil War bookshelf in America, even if you don't really care much about the naval war. I think it should be THE standard work on the topic for a long time to come.

Finally, I was able to finish Hampton Newsome's The Fight for the Old North State and oh my, what a terrific book! There is nothing to dislike about this book. It is the most comprehensive thing written on North Carolina during the first half of 1864. Well-researched, well-written, balanced, and well-illustrated, if this book doesn't win some awards, people simply aren't paying attention. The Conclusion alone is the best summary of the topic one could hope to read. It includes the most detailed coverage of the Battle of Plymouth that you will find anywhere. Newsome's understanding of what was going on in North Carolina during this time is second to none and I encourage ANYONE interested in the Civil War, or even simply North Carolina history, to read this book. It will ultimately give you a better understanding of the time.

With these three finished, I turn to the stack on my desk and continue on.

Monday, July 15, 2019

First Half of July Experiences

The last two weeks have provided some memorable moments. After a relatively quiet Independence Day weekend, I ventured to the Outer Banks with my pal Jim McKee to see Gov't Mule for the second time this year (having seen them in April in Wilmington). They played the outdoor venue at Roanoke Island Festival Park, and despite a steady rain for most of the evening, it was an awesome show. After the show was the real highlight however. As we stood in the parking lot, the last ones waiting for an Uber back to the hotel, the band's tour bus pulled up and stopped, waiting for the remainder of their entourage. Then, Warren Haynes himself got off the bus. He saw us standing there, asked how we were doing, and we approached and had a short, but nice conversation with him. We told him we had been at the Wilmington show, he asked where we were from, and was very appreciative of our attendance. He was a genuinely nice guy and even indulged us for a couple of photos. Now Jim and I begin every conversation with, "Dude. We met Warren Haynes." It really made our night.

This past Friday night, Laura and I ventured to the State Theater in Greenville to see Songs From the Road Band and The Grass is Dead, a bluegrass Grateful Dead cover band. Songs From the Road was good, but I was really there to see The Grass is Dead and they did not disappoint. Their bluegrass versions of classic Dead songs are really great and I would go see them again.

Finally, on Saturday and Sunday, I played in back-to-back PDGA C-tier disc golf tournaments. Saturday was the Zebulon Cha-ching & Zing tournament. I really enjoy playing at Zebulon Community Park and this was my first time playing this tournament. Tournament Director Chris Dimsdale teamed up with Fly Guy Disc Golf to run the tournament and they had a food truck on site for both breakfast and lunch, which was a nice touch. I enjoyed getting to play the first round with Fly Guy owner and all-around good dude, Hannable "The HP" McGarity. I also got to play both rounds with child phenom and rising 5th grader, Judah Berman. I had heard about this kid, but never even seen him play. Folks, he's legit. The kid can play and as he gets older, stronger, and continues to improve, the disc golf world better keep an eye on him. He's already sponsored by Innova. His dad is a great guy and very good disc golfer in his own right, and I enjoyed getting to know him as well. I shot +12 (69) both rounds and finished 9th out of 16 in my division. My putting was the most consistent its been in months so even though I ended up middle of the pack, I felt good about the tournament.

Sunday it was on to Greenville and the ECO Tour stop at West Meadowbrook Park. Jay Clark's series has become one of the "must play" series in NC. He and his team (Brian Gilmette and others) do a great job each and every time. This course has always been a difficult one for me and over the past two years there have been changes made that have made this course even tougher, stretching it to a par 60. The work that the Greenville Disc Golf Club has put in on this course is amazing and to be commended. Max Crotts, Vince Tricarico, Jarrett Wallace, Jon Upchurch, and ALL of GVDG should be proud of this course. The heat was a factor as the heat index hit around 105. Everyone was worn down and beat when this thing ended (a few folks even left at lunch and didn't return). I shot a +13 (73) and +14 (74), which was disappointing, but good enough to tie for 5th place out of 9 in the division and that was good enough for "last cash."

I played in the Recreational division in both tournaments this weekend. I had been playing in the Amateur Over 40 division, which is as you may guess, an age restricted division. I have never been competitive in that division, as most players in AM40 are much more advanced players than I am. Over the past few years there are a lot of guys in their 40s and 50s who have started playing in the Rec division because like me they are not advanced level players. So I've decided to step down and play most of the remaining tournaments this year in Rec. Maybe I can get my game on track, improve a little bit, and return to AM40 in another year or two. I really enjoy playing with the guys in AM40 - they are all super nice guys. But it wears you down a bit when you are finishing dead last every single tournament. So I'm hoping to improve my game and my frame of mind with the also super nice and fun guys in the Rec division. Next tournament is in two weeks!

Friday, July 12, 2019

A New (to me) Blog Worth Checking Out

Thanks to Hampton Newsome, who shared a recent review of his book, I have discovered the Random Thoughts on History blog. Admittedly, I do not follow nearly as many blogs as I used to, mainly due to the increased use of social media platforms. Random Thoughts on History will be added to my blogroll on the right side of the page, but here's a link for quick reference. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Crazy Mad Rush is Over......And Also, What Am I?

The crazy mad rush that started in mid-February has finally come to a close and I have a little bit of time to catch my breath.

I just finished reviewing Philip Gerard's The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina for H-CivWar and the review will hopefully be posted sometime this week. Follow H-CivWar on Twitter and you'll see it when it drops. Without spoiling the review, I'll say that you'll view this book depending upon how you approach it. I'll share the review on my social media (Twitter and Facebook) when it is published and you can read it for yourself.

This past weekend I participated in the annual "Fight for the Backcountry" program at Alamance Battleground State Historic Site near Burlington, NC. This is always a great event and there are always lots of folks I enjoy spending time with. They have an active Friends organization that, together with the site staff, is working to make this site even better. It's just an all-around good time when we do programs there.

Someone asked me a question at the Alamance event that, while I answered quickly, gave me pause to consider all weekend and even into this week. The question was "Are you a reenactor? Do you consider yourself to be a reenactor?" On the surface, it seems like an easy Yes/No question to answer, and in some ways it is, but in other ways it is much more complicated. My quick answer was "No, I do not consider myself a reenactor," and that is true, but again there's nuance to this that most folks who don't do this kind of thing wouldn't understand. They would think that anyone who goes to historic places, dresses in historic clothing, and does historic stuff is a reenactor. But there are so many levels to this for those of us who are either a) engaged in the hobby, b) work in the history field, or c) both, that it isn't always so cut-and-dried. Let me clarify further.....

If I did not work in this field, it is doubtful that I would be engaged in these types of activities. While I was a Junior Historian with our local historical society in Pennsylvania when I was a kid (we dressed in pseudo-historic clothing and gave house tours and did historic crafts) it wasn't until my first ever NC Historic Sites job as a seasonal interpreter at Fort Fisher that I ever even thought about participating in "reenacting." I became a first-person interpreter a few years later at Tryon Palace and that's when I started to get more serious about it because I was doing it every day. Finally, when I got my first full-time sites job at the CSS Neuse, I started "reenacting" more seriously. I put the word "reenacting" in quotation marks and I'll explain why next.

To me (and others) there is a big difference between "reenacting" and living history/costumed interpretation, but that's a whole other blog post. The bottom line is, I do what I do to help educate the public and hopefully teach them something about whatever part of the past I'm working in at the given moment. I do not do what I do to get some kind of "period rush" or for my own personal experience of what it was like "back then" or any kind of personal gratification. I feel safe in saying that most of the fine fellows in my group feel the same way. Over the past 20 years I've done a lot of things in this hobby. I've camped out in the coldest, hottest, and wettest conditions imaginable. I've visited some spectacular places and taken part in some really great programs. I've been emotionally moved on a few occasions. I've always tried to do things as correctly and properly as possible, but have never obsessed over every minute detail as some folks do (though I appreciate those who do and applaud them for their dedication). But in the end, I still say I am not a reenactor. I am an educator, I am an interpreter, I am a costumed interpreter, I am a demonstrator. I am many things, but in the end it all goes back to the public and what I am teaching or imparting to them.

If I left the world of historic sites/museums tomorrow would I still engage in this hobby? Probably, but selectively. I have many friends in the hobby, some of whom I consider as family. They are like brothers, sisters, cousins to me and I would still want to spend time with them. However, unlike 10-15 years ago when "reenacting" was the only hobby I really had, I now have other hobbies that interest me equally, if not more. As with anything else in life, you keep doing it until it isn't fun or rewarding anymore, then you have to decide whether or not to give it up. I'm nowhere near ready to give it up, but I also know that I am not a "reenactor" by some accounts, and I'm good with that.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Catching My Breath

The month of April was a complete blur. In the first two weeks of the month I was on the road 9 out of 10 days, driving over 1,600 miles in that time. It all started with the Two Weeks of Fury bus tour sponsored by Bentonville Battlefield, a three-day tour that explored the 1865 Carolina Campaign. I played chauffeur for Eric Wittenberg and drove the chase vehicle behind the bus all weekend. Much fun was had with some good history buddies, particularly Chris Meekins, Wade Sokolosky, Colby Stevens, Derrick Brown, Amanda Brantley, and Chad Jefferds. The highlight for me was touring the Monroe's Crossroads battlefield, which is aboard Fort Bragg and not generally accessible to the public.

Next up was North Carolina's Independence Day, better known as Halifax Day, April 12. After doing musket demonstrations for school groups on Friday, we settled in for living history and a small skirmish reenactment on Saturday. The program was titled The Road to Yorktown and highlighted the forces of Cornwallis and Tarleton as they moved through North Carolina toward Virginia, coming through Halifax along the way. Good times were had once again and even the bad weather didn't dampen our spirits.

I managed to work in a couple of concerts at the end of the month with my good buddy Jim McKee, which was a much needed respite from the craziness of this month. After seeing Umphrey's McGee and Widespread Panic at the Trondossa Music and Arts Festival in Charleston, SC we made stops on our return trip in McClellanville and Georgetown to check out the SC Maritime Museum, the Gullah Museum, and some old churches. Then it was back to Wilmington to see Gov't Mule. Both shows were great and the side trip for history stuff was fun as well.

As I move into May, I am working on a book review for H-CivWar on Philip Gerard's The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina.

I will also be involved with a number of programs, including the annual meeting and symposium of the NC Military Historical Society, of which I am Treasurer, and the annual Fight for the Backcountry event at Alamance Battleground. As usual, there will be some concerts and disc golf events scattered in as well. It might not be as busy as April, but it will be plenty busy enough.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Things Are Picking Up

This time of year always seems to be very busy and it is no different this year. March-May are, as usual, going to be very hectic and it starts this weekend.

Bentonville Battlefield - "A Fighting Chance for Life"
I will be participating in this program Saturday and Sunday. During the day, our group will be portraying Federal artillery and crewing the site's 3-inch ordnance rifle. But the real meat of this program is the Saturday evening portion which will recreate field hospital scenes in and around the Harper House. This program has been revamped from previous iterations and will be much more serious, thought-provoking, and graphic this time. It will not be for the faint of heart and guests are being warned ahead of time about the physical and psychological nature of what is being portrayed. The site staff has put some really solid research behind this and I'm looking forward to how it comes off. My group will be portraying surgeons and hospital stewards for this portion of the program.

The first weekend of April sees me yet again at Bentonville to participate in their three-day tour of the Carolina's Campaign, titled "Two Weeks of Fury." Guest speakers/tour leaders include Craig Symonds, John Marszalek, Eric Wittenberg, and Wade Sokolosky. I'll be serving as chauffeur for at least some of them for the weekend. Should be fun.

Writing - I just finished and sent to the editor the article I co-authored on the US Navy's role in the Battle of New Bern. I'm very happy with the way it turned out and can't wait to see it in print sometime late this year (hopefully). It will be my third feature length article for Civil War Navy Magazine. I am considering expanding upon this article to write about the US Navy's role in the Burnside Expedition, possibly for submission to Military Collector & Historian, but I'll have to see what time allows.

Reading - If you look at the What I'm Currently Reading sidebar on the blog you'll see that I've inserted Hampton Newsome's just released book at the top of the list. If the first chapter is any indication, this is going to be a great book and should be the standard on the topic for a long time to come.

Otherwise, I will be giving a few presentations to various groups, participating in two 18th century living history programs at Historic Halifax and Alamance Battleground, and working on another book review.

Of course, there are four disc golf tournaments and numerous concerts sprinkled in among all of this as well. It's enough to keep me hopping, for sure.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Projects Keeping Me Busy

Normally the month of January is pretty easy going for me, but not this year. Among the regular work responsibilities, I have been working on two articles, a book review, and organizing a two-day PDGA B-Tier disc golf tournament. That's enough to keep anyone hopping.

I just finished up a review of Myron J. Smith's latest book, Ironclad Captains of the Civil War. Smith is a well-known historian of the Civil War's western theater, specifically the brown water navies. This book is well-researched and is a valuable encyclopedia for anyone interested in the Civil War navies. My only real problem is with the publisher, not the author. The price of this book will make it cost-prohibitive for a lot of folks to buy. The paperback volume lists at $75 and the Kindle edition is over $30. Had I not received it free for writing the review, I wouldn't buy it. My review will appear in an upcoming issue of The Nautical Research Journal. Over the years I've written a dozen reviews for this publication, most of them online rather than in print.

I have also been working on two articles for Civil War Navy magazine. My first article for them was a history of the Confederate ironclad CSS Neuse. Since then, I have produced a sidebar piece to accompany another article about the Confederate capture and destruction of USS Underwriter and am in various stages of completing the current two articles. The first, which is finished and I've received the page proofs of is a biographical piece about Lt. Francis L. Hoge, a Confederate naval officer who ended his career as executive officer of the CSS Neuse. I am really excited to see this article published because Hoge has been a particular interest of mine for a number of years. The second article is being coauthored with an acquaintance from New Bern. He did most of the research and wrote a rough draft, which I have edited extensively, added some information, and gotten formatted for publication. The topic of the article is the US Navy's role in the Battle of New Bern in March 1862. I believe it too will be a good article. The sum total of all these projects amounts to the most writing I've done since graduate school and it's been really refreshing to write something other than book reviews or exhibit text.

Once all of this is finished I'll have another book showing up for review on H-Net. I'll save that for a future post.