This posting concludes my two-part (Part One) email interview with John J. Fox III, author of the 35th Georgia regimental history Red Clay to Richmond.
DW: Many books have an interesting path to publication. Can you take us through your own journey and tell us why you elected to go with your own personal imprint (Angle Valley Press)?
JJF: My path to publication has certainly been an interesting journey. In fact I gave a talk at our local library last spring and the title was “Curves and Speedbumps in Writing a Book.” A publisher gave me a gentleman’s agreement in the early 1990’s to publish my book. Various disagreements erupted including length and content. Several years later, in frustration, I asked for the manuscript to be returned. I found another publisher who gave me a written contract. This made me feel better, but in the end they jerked me around even worse. After sitting on my manuscript for three years the second publisher kept telling me it was coming out. This publisher was then bought out by a larger firm and I was told that my book was still in line to be printed. Well, after another year of waiting I asked some hard questions and discovered the new company did not intend to publish my book. I could have taken them to court, but I realized this would not help me get the 35th Georgia story out. The self-publishing idea had floated around in the back of my mind for a long time and I finally decided to really take a look at that option. After investigation I realized that I could publish the book myself and probably do a better job. So that is how Angle Valley Press began. It has been a lot of work, but I am still glad I went this route. Self-publishing allowed me to maintain control over all the content and design. All the approximate eight years of frustration with the other publishers actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The extra time allowed me to dig up more primary material written by the soldiers. The present book is a much more thorough account of the 35th Georgia wartime experience and I am quite humbled and proud of Red Clay’s success. I also like to think those Georgia veterans are staring down from heaven with smiles on their faces because their story has finally been told.
Comment: I should mention how well edited and well presented the text is as well. I've never been a person with a kneejerk dismissal of all self-publishing efforts, but, of course, only a very tiny minority are as high quality as this book and others such as Fred Ray's recent ANV sharpshooter study. I hope it doesn't turn out this way, but industry economics and declining CW interest might make self-publishing the only real option for an increasing number of CW studies.
DW: Your diligent efforts in tracking down manuscript source material will certainly be appreciated by readers. Were you able to find materials not consulted by any previous historians?
JJF: Most of the excerpted letters and diaries used to describe the 35th Georgia experience have never been published before now. Some of these items I located in various state/county archives and other items were sent to me by descendants of the soldiers. I located several obscure letters copied onto microfilm at the National Archives in Washington, DC. I even stumbled into the complete court martial transcript of Lieutenant S.G. Johnson’s trial that I included in Appendix D of my book. This remarkable document I know has never seen the light of day until now. The National Archives is a remarkable place. They literally have miles and miles of Confederate records on microfilm – records of unknown importance just waiting for the right researcher to give them light.
DW: Did you discover any significant gaps in the wartime service of the 35th Georgia for which you couldn’t find source material?
JJF: The Second Manassas Campaign caused me some problems. I really had to dig to come up with primary material related to my Georgians for the end of August 1862. Before the campaign began, several of my prolific letter writers were either lying in hospital beds or lying in graves. Because I had combed archival material for the 14th, 45th and 49th Georgia regiments plus located Federal material I was able to put the chapter together.
DW: Is there something I’ve left out that you’d like to bring to the attention of CWBA readers?
JJF: There is still 35th Georgia material out there and I would like to ask your readers who might happen to come across it to please let me know. I am interested in 14th, 45th and 49th Georgia information too. Also, the 35th Georgia’s first commander and later brigade commander, Brigadier General Edward Lloyd Thomas, was very reticent. Thomas’ fellow brigadiers would write battle reports several pages in length. Thomas’ report about the same battle would be three paragraphs. He was an excellent combat commander, quick to wave the sword, but slow to use the pen. This of course made my job somewhat difficult. Thomas was well educated (1846 Emory College graduate) and after the war served out West in the U.S. Land Department and then was in charge of the Indian bureau in the Oklahoma Territory where he died and was buried in 1898. There has to be a treasure trove of his letters somewhere, but I have not found them. If any of your readers find them I would be forever in their debt if they would let me know.
Comments: If anyone has information for John, there is email contact information at the press's website. See link just below.
DW: Thank you very much for your time, John. For more information about Red Clay to Richmond please visit the Angle Valley Press webpage. What can we expect from your next Civil War-related project?
JJF: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my Georgians and how the whole Red Clay to Richmond project came to fruition. My next book project is slated for release in Spring/Summer 2007. It will be about the Battle of Fort Gregg which closed out the Petersburg Campaign. Many people refer to this little known but significant fight as the Confederate Alamo. Numerous soldiers from both sides who had fought at places like Gettysburg, Sharpsburg, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House said this was the nastiest, bloodiest fight they had endured during all four years of the war. At least twelve Union soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor for storming the ramparts of Fort Gregg. Some three hundred Confederates manned the earthen walls of the fort at the beginning of the fighting and when they ran out of ammo and the hand-to-hand combat ended, only fifty-four remained standing. Why does this battle still remain obscure? It was overshadowed by the fall of Petersburg and Richmond; the surrender at Appomattox; and the assassination of Lincoln. However, if those sacrificial Southerners had not made their stand at Fort Gregg we would never have heard about Appomattox Court House. There are so many compelling stories of bravery that occurred at this terrible spot on April 2, 1865. I am excited about finally giving the brave men from both sides who fought at this place their due. Angle Valley Press also welcomes manuscripts from other historians working on projects related to Georgia and the War. I have an author working on a regimental history of the 50th Georgia and this book should be released in the Spring/Summer 2007 as well.
Comment: You're very welcome, John, and good luck with future publishing projects. The 50th is in good hands and it sounds like your Fort Gregg project will be a nice companion to A. Wilson Greene's history of the last moments of the Petersburg siege, Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion.
(Go back to Part One)