Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Author Q & A: James E. McGhee

Originally planned as a monthly or bi-monthly feature of CWBA, I've been neglecting interviews for far too long. Happily, I have the pleasure of reviving the author Q&A with James E. McGhee. We've never met, but have corresponded frequently over the past few years and Jim has always been very generous in helping me. He has written, compiled, and edited a number of invaluable works dealing with the Civil War in Missouri:
  • With Richard C. Peterson, Kip Lindberg, and Keith Daleen, Sterling Price's Lieutenants: A Guide to the Officers and Organization of the Missouri State Guard, 1861-1865 (Two Trails, new revised ed. 2007/2008).
  • ed., General M. Jeff Thompson's Letter Book July 1861-June 1862 (Two Trails Publishing, 2004).
  • Campaigning With Marmaduke: Narratives and Roster of the 8th Missouri Cavalry Regiment (Two Trails, 2002).
  • ed., Letter and Order Book, Missouri State Guard 1861-1862. (Two Trails, 2001).
  • Missouri Confederates: A Guide to Sources for Confederate Soldiers and Units 1861-1865 (Two Trails, 2001).
  • ed., Service with the Missouri State Guard: The Memoir of Brigadier General James Harding (Oak Hills Publishing, 2000).
  • ed., Voices of the Swamp Fox Brigade: Supplemental Letters, Order and Documents of General M. Jeff Thompson's Command, 1861-1862. (Blue and Grey Bookshop, 1999).
  • ed., "Tales of the War": A Series of Civil War Articles From the Daily Missouri Republican St. Louis, Missouri 1885-1887.
  • ed. with James R. Mayo., Stoddard Grays: Confederate Soldiers of Stoddard County, Missouri, 1861-1865. (Two Trails, 1995).
DW: Hello, Jim. Thanks for taking part in this little author Q&A session.

How long have you been researching the Civil War in Missouri? Has it always been your sole research interest?

JEM: Like most people probably, my interest in the war began by reading about the war in the east. In fact, I still read some books about the eastern theater. I stumbled across Jay Monaghan’s Civil War on the Western Border about 1964 or so while I was stationed at Lowery AFB in Denver. That sparked my interest in the war in Missouri. Thus, since the mid-1960s I have concentrated on the war in the Trans-Mississippi, especially the people and events in Missouri. I am completely fascinated with the subject.

Your latest book Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865 (U. of Ark. Press) is scheduled for release this April. What is it you wanted to accomplish with this project?

JEM: Missouri Confederate units are confusing to say the least. What I set out to do, and I hope I have succeeded, is to sort out the myths and realities of Missouri’s units, and to provide a brief historical summary of the service of each unit, that will assist historians and genealogists alike in their research.

DW: In what ways does your book go beyond the model of the Confederate state unit guide established by Art Bergeron's excellent Louisiana study and Stewart Sikakis' many volumes?

JEM: Sikafis’ books provide very little detail regarding the units he includes. My book, like Bergeron’s, gives more information on the organization, officers, casualties, etc., of each unit. As a matter of fact, I modeled my book after Bergeron’s, which I consider by far the best of the genre.

DW: Was it difficult to find a publisher? Was it your original intention to go with a university press?

JEM: I didn’t know if anyone would want to publish the manuscript! It never occurred to me that a university press would have any interest in it, so I considered a small press or even self-publishing. Dr. Bill Gurley, who co-edited the wonderful McPheeters diary published by the University of Arkansas Press, read my manuscript and suggested submitting it to Arkansas, since they publish the ”Civil War in the West” series. I was pleasantly surprised when the press accepted the manuscript for publication.

DW: You once told me you try to obtain a copy of every book published about the CW in Missouri for your home library. I won't ask you to pick favorites, but could you briefly discuss a few books you have found to be excellent, but remain most undeservedly obscure even to those well steeped in the Missouri literature?

JEM: A fairly recent release, Fishing in Deep River: Civil War Memoir of Private Samuel Baldwin Dunlap, C.S.A., despite its unfortunate title, is a wonderful memoir of a northwest Missouri soldier that recounts his experiences in the Guard and as an artilleryman with the 1st Missouri Brigade. Daniel Joseph Plaster’s Marmaduke’s First Missouri Raid, 1862-1863: The Roles of Federal Scouts and Outposts in the Defense of Springfield, is a fine study of small unit operations during General Marmaduke’s initial raid into Missouri. Finally, Gary Scheel’s, Sixty-Six Miles in Thirty-Nine Hours: The Retreat from Fort Davidson, Pilot Knob to the Battle of Leasburg, provides an interesting account of a little known incident connected to the battle at Pilot Knob.

DW: Great, I'll definitely need to visit those first two.

Interestingly, you mention in the intro to your MSG order book compilation that there is far more source material available than is commonly believed (albeit widely scattered). Where are the best places to look for primary source material related to the MSG?

JEM: The Missouri State Archives, the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the various campuses of the University of Missouri, the Missouri Historical Society (St. Louis), Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Park, various county historical societies in Missouri, and in private hands. Quite frankly, if I might promote another of my projects, the best starting place for locating Missouri State Guard resources is the extensive bibliography of the Guard in the second edition of Sterling Price’s Lieutenants.

DW: As a long time observer and contributor, what project would you most like to see? On a similar note, what do you feel is the most neglected subject in the literature?

JEM: I would love to see a single volume history of the war in Missouri, biographies of Samuel Curtis and Francis M. Cockrell, and comprehensive studies of the siege of Lexington and Price’s Expedition of 1864 (from the beginning to the bitter end!). As for neglected subjects, there is a serious dearth of modern regimental histories of Missouri units, both Union and Confederate.

DW: And of the good ones that do exist, none that I can recall are of regiments that did not do the bulk of their service in the western theater. I have high hopes for Michael Gillespie's ongoing Lexington project.

For me, the Missouri State Guard is the most fascinating Civil War period military organization. My personal dream project would be a complete military history of the MSG. Given your knowledge of the available source material, would such a project be feasible?

JEM: I believe it is. There are some aspects of the Guard that are short on primary materials, the battle of Athens being one, but I think that a comprehensive history of the Guard could and should be done. There are many important resources available that have never been used by historians.

DW: What is your biggest lament in terms of the overall state of scholarship dealing with CW Missouri?

JEM: Initially, the lack of interest in the war in Missouri by most professional historians in the state is absolutely shameful. Non-academics have accomplished much of the research and writing about the war in Missouri over the past several years. Secondly, the emphasis on guerrilla warfare in the state has been overdone to the detriment of other aspects of the conflict. How many more times must we ride with Quantrill and Bloody Bill? I, for one, am extremely saddle-sore.

DW: Along with the overemphasis issue, much of the output dealing with the guerrilla war aspects continues to be unhelpful (to put it kindly) as well. It is my hope that University of Missouri Press will someday champion a broader and deeper contribution to Missouri CW literature, similar to the effort Tennessee is doing for the western theater and Appalachia.

What are you working on now?

JEM: I am currently working on a compilation of first hand accounts of the battles of the Missouri State Guard. Tentatively titled "A Missouri State Guard Reader".

DW: That sounds like it would be a great resource. Thanks again for your time, Jim, and for giving me some new ideas to mull over and books to find.

Readers, if you'd like to purchase a copy of the new edition of Sterling Price's Lieutenants, go to the publisher's website (link-scroll down). Also, keep an eye out for the April 08 release of Jim's Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865 (U. of Arkansas Press). As always, I will keep you posted.


  1. Jim's comments about my book are greatly appreciated. I look forward to reading his.

    Art Bergeron

  2. Great interview, Drew and Jim. It was just the right length and had appropriate detail. The questions were well thought out and relevant and Jim's responses reveal his years of experience and throughtfulness regarding the subject matter.

    Drew, I hope you do more of this. If I can help you in any way, tell me.

    Jim Martin

  3. Jim,
    In the beginning, I had planned on doing this monthly, but I've found it takes far more time than I had anticipated (lots of little things that add up--e.g. back and forth communication, research, editing, etc.). It tends to get pushed back in light of my self-imposed review requirements, but I do want to get back to doing this feature regularly.


  4. Drew, -- Just wanted to say that you do a great job with these interviews. I know they are labor intensive, but please keep it up.

    Kevin at Civil War Memory


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