Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Author Q & A: Scott C. Patchan

As mentioned earlier, I recently finished reading historian Scott Patchan's latest book Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign (click here to read the review) and he kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his work.

DW:Hi, Scott. What factors led you to make the 1864 Valley Campaign your primary area of study?

SP: I have been a military history junkie my entire life. When I moved to Roanoke , VA in 1985, I saw the roadside markers and read about the Lynchburg Campaign and the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain. I then attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, where I fell in love with the Valley, traveling out to Port Republic and Cross Keys.

Wanting to learn about the Valley in years other than 1862, I found George Pond's book on the '64 Valley Campaign in the JMU library and was hooked. The size and scope of the overall 1864 Valley Campaign and its relative lack of study compared to Jackson 's campaign really pulled me toward it.

DW: In studying your publishing options, why did you ultimately choose an academic press?

SP: For all of the criticisms of academic presses, they are still the primary conduit of campaign and military studies.

DW: I agree, and believe they also are by far the most consistent in turning out the highest quality works. How would you describe your experience with Nebraska in working with them to put together the book YOU wanted published?

SP: They were professional, easy to get in touch with and responsive to my ideas. They actually let me put in more maps and photographs than I was initially told. I am very grateful to George Skoch for stepping in very late in the process when I suddenly found myself in need of a mapmaker.

DW: You've mentioned on another venue that you are interested in revising your Piedmont book for a new edition. Is that project still in the cards? Keep in mind it will destroy the value of my scarce first edition.

SP: It is in the cards for some point. I was originally going to put the time into this year but have moved on to a couple of other projects such as the Cedar Creek issue for Blue and Gray. I guess I'll wait until you really cash in on it so you can get max value for it. I have a couple of copies laying around here too.

Now, getting to your latest book "Shenandoah Summer"...For me there really is no "The" 1864 Valley Campaign. With so many different objectives, armies, and commanders involved, one could argue that there are 5 distinctive campaigns [Sigel in conjunction with Crook/Averell; Hunter's Raid; Early's Raid on Washington ; the period covered in "Shenadoah Summer"; and the final phase -- the arrival of Sheridan to clean it all out for good]. What's your own view on all this?

SP: The 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign is a campaign in its own right because all of the events that you mentioned are related and dependent upon each other. You used the word phase, which is a good way of looking at it.

The events of the various phases are interconnected. For example Hunter replaces Sigel and he continues on with essentially the same objectives that Sigel had but is successful. Hunter's success forced Lee to detach Early, whose success at Lynchburg opened the door to his raid on Washington which brought the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps into the picture. I could go on but there are clear linking events between all of the phases that you mention. Always keep in mind too, that the 1864 Valley Campaign is a component of Grant's overall strategy of constant campaigning to wear down the Confederacy. The whole nature of warfare in Virginia changed in 1864 and the Valley changed with it.

DW: I believe Jubal Early has gotten a bit of a raw deal from historians for his overall performance in the Valley. In your view, what were his primary success(es) and failure(s)? What overall grade would you give him?

SP: Tactically, 2nd Kernstown was his masterpiece and it led to the burning of Chambersburg which caused a shockwave that shifted the strategic balance in the Valley. Monocacy, Lynchburg, and Snicker's Gap would be other successes.

To learn about Early's biggest failure in the campaign, you'll have to wait for the next volume which I'm hoping to complete this year. Simply put, while "Old Jube" was a fighter, he lacked the deftness of Stonewall.

Nevertheless, Early's efforts contributed in the Valley greatly to the survival of the ANV at Petersburg in 1864 by forcing Grant to detach Sheridan and 30,000 men to the Valley.

DW: I was pleased to see you laud the service of some highly competent but lesser known figures like Isaac Duval. Taken from the period covered by your own writing, who is your favorite unsung officer for either side?

SP: I'd like to expand upon that question if you don't mind to touch some on how history comes to us. Joseph Thoburn is probably the most underrated unsung hero of the entire Valley campaign. He was there from New Market to Cedar Creek where he met his maker. He has been completely lost to history for the most part. However, his peer, Col. Rutherford B. Hayes went on to become President and has been vastly overrated as a commander. Don't get me wrong, he was a very capable leader but if he had not been President the average Civil War reader would not think of him any more than you would Thoburn.

On the Southern side, Brig. General Robert Johnston of North Carolina shows himself to be a top notch combat leader on a number of occasions during the '64 Valley Campaign. He demonstrated his skills at Lynchburg, Rutherford's Farm, Kernstown, Third Winchester and Cedar Creek.

DW: George Crook remains a bit of an enigma. Even though he had a decidedly mixed combat record in the Civil War, historians promote a generally favorable view of him (and your own research has shown that the common soldiers respected him highly). What's your opinion of Crook?

SP: As Crook was a former hero of mine, my findings on him were the source of immense disappointment. While he had some ability, he seems to have some sort of John Pope-like personality flaw in dealing with officers whom he viewed as potential rivals. Averell and Duffie are to Crook at Second Kernstown what Fitz John Porter was to Pope at Second Manassas. In both cases, officers who were faithfully executing their duty and were trying to warn their commander of a very real approaching danger to their army were basically ignored because their commander did not like/trust them. Crook, however, was good friends with Sheridan, redeemed himself at Winchester and Fisher's Hill and rode Sheridan 's coat-tails for a nice post-war career and basically escaped with little criticism.

DW: Could you comment upon significant differences or conclusions that have arisen from your own research in comparison with previous literature [specifically Meaney on Cool Spring, Alexander on Chambersburg, and Haselberger on Chambersburg & Moorefield]?

SP: I think the primary and most important difference is that my work places all of these events into the context of the campaign that was occurring in July 1864. It also offers detailed studies of Rutherford 's Farm and 2nd Kernstown. I have also had the benefit of new primary sources that I located in my research or which have been published since these works came out. I enjoyed all three of the books you mentioned and the work of those authors helped me with my study.

DW: As you've also mentioned above, you are the author of the main article of Blue and Gray Magazine's current Cedar Creek issue. I've read Lewis's battle history (of which I recall absolutely nothing), but I gather that Ted Mahr's study is widely considered the best single work. Could you comment on the merits of both?

SP: For starters, there is no comparison between the two books. Mahr's book is the most detailed analytical work on Cedar Creek that is out there and I recommend it to all who can get their hands on a copy [ed. good luck!]. As Ted said in his preface, it has a "strong emphasis on the Confederate perspective." Ted hoped to revise and republish his book with a more balanced look at the battle, but I believe that health concerns have slowed down his effort. I hope that he can eventually get that done.

Lewis' piece is more of a novelistic endeavor following the battle through the eyes of personalities like Custer, Rosser, and Ramseur and others. I read it when it first came out and enjoyed it at the time. I do recommend that you read Jeff Wert's From Winchester to Cedar Creek.

DW: What's next for you?

SP: More '64 Valley....The next book will pick up where "Shenandoah Summer" left off with Sheridan taking command. There is a lot of exciting action in August and early September that has been completely overlooked. Custer fans should take note. The book will have the battle of Third Winchester/Opequon Creek as its heart and wrap up with Fisher's Hill. Then I want to delve into biography - Sheridan, Early ???

DW: Great news! I particularly look forward to your assessment of Sheridan. I must say I am a bit of a Wittenbergian when it comes to Phil. Thanks for your time, Scott, and I hope everyone joining us here gets a chance to read "Shenandoah Summer".


  1. Hello Drew

    Enjoyed this interview. Scott's book sounds very good. Really glad to hear he is finishing up the campaign with another book. Between the two of these and Jeff Wert's book, a reader would have a very good understanding of campaign. I'm not familiar with Scott's book, Forgotten Fury. Sounds difficult to find. The other book he mentioned by Ted Mahr is another title I'm not familar with. Need to do a little research on that.

    Keep up the good work. Look forward to finding out about more great books.


  2. Andrew, -- First-rate interview. I am currently reading the book and enjoying it immensely.


  3. Thanks for the feedback, guys.

    I would add Cooling's study of Early's Raid to that short list, too. Obtaining the Mahr study and Scott's Piedmont book are spendy propositions indeed. Good luck.


  4. Drew,

    What is the title of Mahr's book? I'll probably never find at a price I'm willing to pay, but I know I'll have fun trying!


  5. Hey Brett,
    It's called "The Battle of Cedar Creek: Showdown in the Shenandoah, October 1-30, 1864" and was part of the H.E. Howard series. Let's hope it finally does get reprinted someday.


  6. Ouch. I see. I understand now why it's so expensive/hard-to-find. I could have had the volume on the Suffolk Campaign on eBay for a little over $50 only 9-12 months ago. Now it's selling in the hundreds. I'll probably just wait to see if it gets reprinted some day. Thanks!

    Brett S.

    PS The author interviews are always fascinating stuff.

  7. Brett,
    It seems like just yesterday when you could get them all new for $20. It's amazing the price of OP works from a series that is quite mediocre overall. Of course, it is helped along by so many of these books covering battles/campaigns having no other book length treatment in existence.


  8. Hello Drew

    Always enjoy going back and looking at the comments. I see a campaign study mentioned that I've not ever heard of. Can you tell me the title of the book that is mentioned in the thread regarding the Suffolk Campaign? Is it in the Howard series?


  9. Don,
    Brett was talking about Steven Cormier's "The Siege of Suffolk The Forgotten Campaign April 11-May 4, 1863". And, yes, it is an H.E. Howard series book.


  10. Hello Drew,

    Please excuse if you get multiple copies of this note; my compueter seems be on gliche tonight!


    Ted Mahr here --first time at your website. Very nice!

    Wasn't aware of it until a friend from my National Park Service days
    sent me the link to take a look.

    He had seen your review on Scott Patchan's "Shenandoah Summer" book, saw where my book on Cedar Creek was mentioned, and thought I'd like to know.

    First, I just got a copy of my old friend, Scott's book to review, and though I've just started a serious read, a quick but thorough glance doesn't disappoint.

    Didn't think it would, as
    Scott and I go quite a ways back (prior to his Piedmont study), and one can ALWAYS
    count upon Scott to conduct impeccable research.

    This phase of the 1864 Valley Campaign has deserved serious examination, and it looks as though Scott has done a great job. My congratulations!

    ( By the way, his Piedmont book is also excellent and deserves republication. It is first-rate. I, myself, have been working along the same subject for my next
    endeavor, though on a much broader scope: a detailed study of Hunter's / Crook's operations against Lynchburg. We'll see how it goes. )

    Speaking of Cedar Creek, in answer to those in your viewership and many others out there who have been inquiring: my Cedar Creek book has been revised and expanded considerably and will be available in the very near future.

    Thanks to Scott for his kind endorsement of the original book. As he accurately states, it was based upon my M.A. thesis, which had a more narrow focus looking at the
    operations from a C.S.A. viewpoint.

    When it went up for first publication, I was flat on my back with a serious illness, so the book form
    was literally written while lying in a hospital bed.

    This new edition, as Scott predicted, is a much more balanced and detailed rendition of the battle based on hundreds of new primary source materials--both Union and Confederate.

    It also encompasses a much greater time-span
    and covers in detail the myriad cavalry operations and other actions that, to-date, have not been adequately covered.

    For those who have been interested, my apologies for the length of time the book has been OP, but life is not always easily supportive of "labors of
    love." Health, family, work, and difficulties in researching as quickly as I would have liked have all contributed to the long delay.

    I most modestly hope it will be worth the wait.

    Thank you for your interest in my book and for Scott's and others' support and interest as well. It is deeply appreciated.

    I will make sure to often scan your excellent website now that I know where to find it, and my very, very best to you in keeping this fine mouthpiece for Civil War scholarship alive.


    Theodore (Ted) C. Mahr
    Dayton, Ohio

  11. Hi Ted,
    Thank you for your kind comments and for writing to tell us about your current projects. The Lynchburg effort and the impending publication of a new ed. of Cedar Creek are great news to me and many of the readers here.

    Please keep in touch and visit often.



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