Book Review: Year of Disunion

by fifer1863 on December 28, 2011

 I recently received a copy of Year of Disunion: A Novel of the Dawn of the American Civil War by Blythe Forcey Toussaint.  I honestly did not know what to expect from the book but I can now honestly say that I enjoyed reading the story.  While the story is about the events leading up to the Civil War it is more about the story of a family from Vermont and sisters Lettie and Roxana.

According to the back cover:

“On the morning of July 21, 1861, several hundred civilians set out to Centreville, picnics packed, to watch the battle of Bull Run. Year of Disunion is a novel that explores who these people were and what their experience might have been. The story opens in Vermont as two very different sisters, Lettie and Roxana, reunite after years apart while Roxana is enduring a near-fatal childbirth. Changes caused by the war take them to Washington and an invitation to watch the battle, along with their five young children. Things do not go well for the spectators. Visions of champagne toasts to celebrate a glorious, easy Yankee victory are shattered as dishonorable retreat drives the civilians from the field along with the soldiers. After the battle, Lettie is pursued by her abusive, wealthy husband, and Roxana travels south to find her husband, chaplain to the 2nd Vermont, who has been captured and made a prisoner of war. Events lead characters into wartime Washington, DC; Raleigh, NC; Cairo, IL; and the North Carolina Outer Banks, as they respond to the “disunion” the war brings to their lives throughout the remainder of 1861.”

The story is about Lettie running away from her husband and going to live with Roxana and her Reverend husband, Josheph.  Joseph enlists in the Union Army as a chaplain and is taken captive at the Battle of Bull Run and so the sisters pack up their family and set out in search of her husband.

Year of Disunion: A Novel of the Dawn of the American Civil War at 320 pages, is a good read and tells a very good story.  Ms. Toussaint has clearly done her research and it is reflected in the narrative.  While not a military or technical book about battle details, the story is about family and how they struggled with the events on the homefront.

Year of Disunion: A Novel of the Dawn of the American Civil War  is a bit wordy or slow in parts but it does not take away from the overall story.  I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a Civil War themed historical fiction novel.





Teaching the Civil War Podcast Episode 11

by fifer1863 on December 21, 2011

Teaching the Civil War Podcast logo




Thanks for staying subscribed to my podcast and I hope you enjoy listening. In this episode I present a brief interview that I did with author JD Petruzzi.  I have done reviews of JD’s books here before and it was nice to talk to him in person about his works.

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Music is by Mark Ferguson and is used with permission.

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JD Petruzzi’s Website

Complete Gettysburg Guide Website

Gettysburg Campaign Handbook 

My Review of the Complete Gettysburg Guide





The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook Review

by fifer1863 on September 10, 2011

Recently, I received a copy of NEW GETTYSBURG CAMPAIGN HANDBOOK, THE: Facts, Photos, and Artwork for Readers of All Ages, June 9 – July 14, 1863 by J. D. Petruzzi and Steve Stanley.  Petruzzi is also the author of excellent book, The Complete Gettysburg Guide.

This 184 page handbook is packed full of facts, figures, photographs (both color and black/white), sketches, and the best part is the detailed maps by Steve Stanley. The book also contains, quotes, trivia, and an order of battle.  There are two special sections that I especially liked; one was “Gettsyburg on the Web” and the other was called “Gettysburg Bookshelf.”  There are sections on Gettysburg “Personalities”, Gettysburg Civilians and Visiting Gettysburg today.

According to the back cover this book “is an informative full-color guide for American Civil War and Gettysburg enthusiasts of all ages.  Authors J.David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley use clear and concise writing broken down into short and easy to understand chapter complete with original maps, modern and historic photographs, tables, and artwork to narrate the history of the Gettysburg Campaign from the opening battle at Brandy Station in Virginia on Jun 9, 1863, to the escape of General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River on July 14, 1863.”

This handbook is a great quick reference guide for Gettysburg buffs of all ages and I’m sure it will be used by my son CJ for creating new videos.

I also asked the authors a few questions about the new book:

JIM: Mr. Stanley, how do you go about researching and creating your maps?

Steve Stanley:

In creating and researching maps for this book or any other Civil War book/site, I like to go back as close as possible to the source for reference, i.e. in Gettysburg, the Bachelder maps were used as a starting point. Once I have found a map to work from, the fun begins. First I get that map into my computer (via scanning or in some cases downloading from Library of Congress) and set it up as it’s own layer in my drawing program. Once there I use it as a template. Then I start the creation of the base map itself. The different items are their own separate layer in the map file, i.e. topo lines, treeline, fence line, etc.
I always start off with the topographic line layer. Again using the historic map as a template, I completely redraw all the topographic following the topo lines on the template using my mouse as a drawing tool. After each individual line is drawn then I smooth that line out to get rid of the angular look. Depending on the size of the battlefield and the terrain of the region, drawing the topo lines can take anywhere from 2 to 48 manhours of drawing. The base topo map for Gettysburg took me about 36 manhours of drawing alone. Then I move onto and drawing in the historic roads, again using historic maps I draw in the historic roads that are still in use today and give them their own look. I then draw in the historic roads that are gone but still vital to the map and give them their own look (usually a dashed line). Next I will draw in the modern roads (if any) toned back so they are there but not overwhelming. The modern roads are for reference for the person using the map, to give them an idea of where they are located on the battlefield.
Next I will draw in the water features. I only indicate the historic water features on my maps. Then I move onto the historic structures and fencelines. Using historic maps I can add these features in their proper location, I was lucky with my Gettysburg maps in that I obtained a copy of the historic treeline and fenceline study done by the National Park Service here in Gettysburg. I was able to use that study to properly mark the battlefield. Then I start adding in the treelines. For Gettysburg, I was able to use the Treeline and fenceline study to place in the trees and orchards. Most battlefields I am not so lucky. Most of my treelines are an approximation of what was there during the battle but pretty close. Depending on the battlefield, I was able to use maps drawn by others (either historic or modern) to get me in the ballpark, then I would start reading narratives to see how they describe the trees and start adding in the trees.
After I have my basemap complete, I can now move onto the actual troop movements. First I have decide how much of the fighting I want to show on that particular map, i.e. just a small window of time, like in the Complete Gettysburg Guide or an entire battle on one map like I do for the Civil War Trust.  Again referencing historic battlemaps, I get my starting point. I also will look over other map makers work to get me in the ballpark of placing them. Once I have my starting point, then onto the Official Records and read how each individual unit moved, who was beside them, who fell back first or last and so on. I will also pull up contemporary writings and read through their narratives to get more precise. For the Complete Gettysburg Guide and the Handbook maps, I reference Harry Pfanz’s work, Trudeau’s Gettysburg, Wert’s Gettysburg Day Three and so many others they are too many to name. After I have what I feel is a complete map, I will find one of the historians for that battle to look it over for me and give me feedback. After changing the map to reflect those comments, it is ready for publishing. Sometimes things/mistakes slip through and over the past two years, I have corrected/changed a few of the maps in the Guide and because of that, the Handbook has some of the most accurate and up-to-date maps in them.
JIM: Mr. Petruzzi, your Complete Gettysburg Guide book is an excellent resource for learning about the battle, what makes your new book different from your original Guide?
J.D. Petruzzi:
Thank you!  Well, this Gettysburg Campaign Handbook addresses the entirety of the campaign.  The centerpiece is a photographic study of many actions and movements from the June 9, 1863 Battle of Brandy Station all the way to the crossing of the Potomac by Lee’s army on July 14 after the main battle.  As regards Gettysburg itself, many interesting items that wouldn’t fit into the Guide are now in this book – things such as the Medal of Honor awardees, the weather during the battle, capsule biographies, trivia, participant quotes, and the most up to date and comprehensive Gettysburg Order of Battle ever produced.
JIM: Mr. Petruzzi, as an author, historian and researcher, what are some of your favorite places to locate primary resources about the Battle of Gettysburg?

J.D. Petruzzi:
I very much enjoy getting material from the National Archives and the Library of Congress. Repositories such as the Gettysburg National Military Park research room, university libraries around the country, historical societies, and the US Army History Center in Carlisle PA are goldmines of primary source material.  I also love to read soldier letters – particularly those sent to me by descendants and which has never been used by authors before.  One of the best resources, I’ve found, are newspapers.  Not just the National Tribune or well known post-war southern papers, but the thousands of small-town newpapers that can be searched on the Library of Congress website.  It’s in those that many interesting tidbits pop up.
JIM: In researching your book, what is one thing that you learned that surprised you or dispelled a myth that you thought was true?

J.D. Petruzzi:
I was actually quite surprised by the number of casualties suffered by both armies during the entirety of the campaign – much higher than I would have guessed.  I found that in researching the Order of Battle… but those casualty figures aren’t in this Handbook.  That information is coming in our next one, titled The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses, set for release in the spring of 2012.  Stay tuned for that one!

Paperback: 184 pages

Publisher: Savas Beatie; 1st edition (July 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 161121078X

ISBN-13: 978-1611210781

Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 0.2 inches




Battle of South Mountain book review

March 18, 2011

John Hoptak, a friend, fellow blogger, Antietam Park Ranger, and all around good guy has published a new book called, The Battle of South Mountain. This 182 page book is published by The History Press and is an excellent resource for anyone looking to learn more about this often overlooked battle. In addition to the […]

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Becoming information literate

January 6, 2011

In light of the recent Virginia text book controversy I wanted to tell you about the book Gettysburg: A Battlefield Atlas which I picked up at a local yard sale. I am always eager to read a book about the battle and this small book looked interesting and it was cheap. This 103 page book […]

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Read Books on the Civil War Online

January 4, 2010

As many of you already know, Google has begun to scan and make books available online, including full versions of books. These books are copyright free and can be downloaded for your reading pleasure. In addition to these books, there are also some books where the copyright has not expired, however you can read sample […]

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The Complete Gettysburg Guide

November 10, 2009

I recently received a copy of The Complete Gettysburg Guide by J.D. Petruzzi and Steven Stanley and I wanted to share my thoughts on the book.   To begin, this is by far one of the best guides to the Battle of Gettysburg that I have read.  In addition to detailing the three days of the […]

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