Thursday, July 03, 2008

Author Q & A: Peter Cozzens (Part 1)

Peter Cozzens, a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, is an independent scholar who has written a number of highly regarded Civil War studies. They include a western theater quartet [This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga, The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga, No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stone's River, and my personal favorite The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth]. He's also edited The Military Memoirs of General John Pope (Civil War America), The New Annals of the Civil War, five volumes of the Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars, 1865-1890 series, and several new volumes of the classic Battles and Leaders series.

Mr. Cozzens graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his upcoming book Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign, a volume in University of North Carolina Press's Civil War America series.

DW: Your previous campaign histories all hailed from the western theater. Did anything in particular inspire you to move across the Alleghenies and do an eastern campaign? Was the '62 Valley Campaign always an interest of yours?

PC: Not really. To be honest, I think the Civil War was only part of the reason. My late parents honeymooned in the Shenandoah Valley. From viewing their photos of the Valley innumerable times while growing up, I developed an affinity for the region without ever having seen it. And after my good friend Keith Rocco moved there in the early 1990s, I spent a good deal of time in the Valley. I came to appreciate both the beauty of the region and its rich history.

From the perspective of the Civil War, I thought there was a serious gap in the literature when it came to Jackson’s Valley Campaign, which I will address presently. So it seemed a natural and appealing subject.


DW: While a number of your edited works were released by Stackpole, all of your original studies (including this one) were published by university presses. As a non-academic historian, what do you find particularly attractive about working with academic presses vs. the many other options available in the marketplace?

PC: Many things. University presses do an excellent job promoting titles that they judge to have market appeal; well enough to ensure that all my previous original works were History Book Club or Book of the Month Club selections. The quality of the book – paper, binding, and such – is better than that of books from most trade publishers. With university presses I have also enjoyed a great amount of input in terms of the lay out (such as the featuring of Keith Rocco’s superb artwork on the dust jackets.) And you don’t find the revolving door of editors you sometimes do when working with a trade publisher. Lastly, university presses tend to keep titles in print longer. My first book, No Better Place to Die, is still in print eighteen years after publication.


DW: It's my opinion that while the individual battles of the Valley campaign have received good (sometimes exceptionally so) coverage, the broader accounts incorporating overall strategic and operational elements are distinctly lacking. What is your view of the quality of the literature?

PC: It varies widely, of course, but for individual battles you can’t go wrong with the fine work of Bob Krick and Gary Ecelbarger. Treatments of the campaign in general works on the war tend to perpetuate many of the misconceptions – and legends – that I’ve tried to debunk. I didn’t go into the project with any particular intentions in that regard – the evidence led me to my conclusions.


DW: Your study is certainly the most balanced and comprehensive treatment of the campaign to date. After completing your research, were there any common perceptions of the campaign, or how it was fought, that you expressly set out to rectify in "Shenandoah 1862"?

PC: Thank you so much for the compliment. I’m glad you said “after completing your research.” Several things struck me: that in battle Jackson’s generalship came up short; that Banks did a far better job than he has been given credit for; that, under similar road and weather conditions, Jackson’s “foot cavalry” marched with no greater rapidness than did their Federal counterparts; and that Jackson had a bad habit of looking for scapegoats in defeat.


DW: I wouldn't disagree with any of that; and if one were so inclined, the available evidence would certainly make it difficult to do so.

Robert K. Krick lauds your uncovering of a "gratifying body of new primary source material..." and the bibliography indeed boasts an impressive array of manuscripts from all over the country. Could you speak about some of your most significant discoveries, and the role they played in shaping your study?

PC: Nothing earth-shaking. Principally, I went deeper – far deeper I think - into source material than did authors of previous studies of the campaign. And I did so in a balanced manner. Robert Tanner’s book Stonewall in the Valley is a beautifully written work, but as he made clear in his introduction, his purpose was to tell the story of the campaign from strictly the Confederate perspective. I believe a campaign must be approached as objectively as possible, giving each side its due. In terms of the Valley Campaign, there is no other way that one can judge Jackson’s accomplishments.


DW: Judging from the amount of attention devoted to Frederick W. Lander in the pages of your book, you and fellow Valley historian Gary Ecelbarger seem to have a shared fascination with the man and his career. I must admit to being similarly intrigued by Lander, and his similarities to Nathaniel Lyon. Both men were strong leaders, uncommonly aggressive, and more than a bit eccentric (unbalanced?), with promising careers cut short by early death. What is your overall opinion of Lander and his potential?

PC: I found nothing with which to disagree in Ecelbarger’s biography, and I think Lander had great potential and would have performed admirably, even brilliantly, up to corps level command – perhaps even as an army commander. I think he would have spotted the remarkable flaw in Jackson’s deployment at Kernstown, in which he sent nearly all his infantry in a wide flanking movement and left his center and right exposed, and I believe Lander would have exploited it. He was aggressive but not beyond prudence. He certainly would have given Jackson no rest after Kernstown.

DW: His temperament could be disturbing at times, but I guess we will never know how much of that irritation was due to the lingering effects of the wound that would eventually kill him.

*** [To Be Continued - Part Two] ***

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