Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Author Q & A: Eric Jacobson

Below is a short question and answer session that I conducted by email with Eric A. Jacobson, co-author of the new book For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair At Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin (O'More Publishing: Franklin, TN., 2006). For Cause & For Country is a detailed military history of those two crucial late November days during Confederate General John Bell Hood's 1864 Tennessee campaign.

DW: You took the unusual path of publishing the softcover version of your book first, then releasing a hardcover edition soon after. What was your strategy behind this marketing move?

EJ: Both versions were meant to be issued simultaneously, but the hardcover was slightly delayed. I wanted interested readers to have an immediate choice of which book they wanted to purchase.

DW: Did you submit your manuscript to 'major' publishing houses or any university presses for consideration?

EJ: Two university presses passed on the book and a third publishing company showed only tepid interest.

DW: What led you to O'More Publishing?

EJ: I went to O'More because they are based in Franklin, Tennessee and they were recommended as being very interested in local history. Once there O'More took an immediate interest in the book.

DW: They did nice work with the layout and presentation; and as a reader I always appreciate footnotes over endnotes.

Getting to issues covered in the book, whether or not John Bell Hood was impaired by heavy doses of laudanum is a heated topic among Franklin enthusiasts. What did your research lead you to conclude?


EJ: I spent 10 years looking for a single piece of evidence to support the laudanum theory and found absolutely nothing. Frankly, I think the debate should be put to bed because there was never any contemporary evidence of Hood using laudanum and only in the 20th century did this rumor start to make the rounds. I think folks could never get their hands around what happened at Spring Hill and so eventually it morphed into laudanum, booze, and women because, as latter generations figured, there had to be some nefarious excuse for what happened.

DW: In your research, did you uncover significant source material that was missed by previous authors or has only recently come to light?

EJ: I believe so. In particular, the National Tribune was a goldmine of information. I also found a number of other sources, particularly letters, that added tremendous weight.

DW: I have a particular interest in Cockrell's Missouri Brigade. Were you able to flesh out their role in the battle of Franklin?

EJ: I think fans of the Missouri Brigade might finally understand how the unit was so decimated after reading the book. Cockrell's men got placed into a cauldron of fire that is hard to fathom.

DW: Great. Can you provide some specific examples of how you feel your book 'improves' upon previous works, such as those of Sword and McDonough? By improvement, I mean just about anything from providing a fuller account of events previously described to new discoveries of persons, events, unit participations, etc.

EJ: Honestly, I consider Sword's book to be the only significant book on the subject. Perhaps Cox's book should be included, but it is over 100 years old and was written by someone who was at Franklin. Sword was the only author to provide real detail and he was definitely the only person to source and footnote his book. I think my book goes to the next level. Sword covered the Tennessee Campaign as a whole, but I decided to focus on the early days of the campaign and then Spring Hill and Franklin alone. I felt strongly that they deserved to be studied independent of Nashville.

As for particular points within the book that one may think are "improvements" I think there is no doubt that the manner in which the Federal forces came together to oppose Hood is given more attention than ever before. Also, Hood is treated much differently than in prior books. Different aspects of the Confederate attack at Franklin are analyzed with much more depth, particularly the attacks made by Loring's and Bate's men. Also, the attack by the Missouri Brigade gets heavy treatment.

DW: In your order of battle research (a difficult enterprise, especially with all the unit consolidations on the Confederate side), did you uncover any units left out of previous histories?

EJ: I uncovered a number of units on both sides that had been left out of previous books. I think once and for all the organization of battle for both sides might be accurate.

DW: Finally, are there any new interpretive conclusions from your book that you'd like to discuss with readers who are already familiar with the literature and are considering purchasing your account?

EJ: The basic conclusion is that the story of both Spring Hill and Franklin is far more compelling than any previous author has been able to convey. I think finally the story of the last two days of November 1864 is told as it was meant to be, without bias or agenda. Even those who are familiar with the subject may be shocked by what they discover in my book. The feedback so far has been phenomenal and I hope it continues.

DW: Thank you for your time, Eric, and I wish you the best of luck for the success of your book.

4 comments:

  1. Andrew, -- Well done! You asked just the right questions and it is nice that author's of smaller publishing houses will have a chance to reach a much wider audience.

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  2. Thanks, Kevin. I don't have anyone else lined up yet, but it looks like something worth continuing.

    Drew

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  3. I am happy to see that he agrees with Richard McMurry on the fact that Hood did not use laudanum. McMurry has argued this for years, but most people still want to believe the myth.

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