Sunday, May 18, 2008

Author Q & A: John F. Bradbury

[John Bradbury is Senior Manuscript Specialist at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Rolla in Rolla, Missouri. He is coeditor of the Phelps County Historical Society newsletter and the author of a number of articles appearing in magazines and scholarly journals. Recently, he co-edited with Lou Wehmer a modern edition of A History of Southern Missouri And Northern Arkansas: Being an Account of the Early Settlements, the Civil War, the Ku-Klux, And Times of Peace (Univ. of Arkansas Press, 2006). His latest project, co-authored with James Denny, covers the first year of the Civil War in the state of Missouri and is titled The Civil War's First Blood (Missouri Life - Univ. of Missouri Press, 2007)]

DW: Hi John, thank you for agreeing to an author Q&A. My intense background search (well, I typed your name into google) finds that you spend your working days as Senior Manuscript Specialist at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection in Rolla, Missouri. For those of us unfamiliar with the inner goings on of the archive repository, could you enlighten us as to what your typical daily duties might entail?

JB: The Western Historical Manuscript Collection is a joint collection of the State Historical Society of Missouri and the University of Missouri, with offices at each of the UM campuses. At Rolla, we have a broad-based regional collection covering 53 counties in southern Missouri . Individual collections can be single items or hundreds; everything from Civil War letters and family papers to records of schools, churches, and fraternal organizations, photographs, local ephemera, etc. My duties involve accessioning, processing, and cataloging the material, responding to patron requests (in person, by mail, and email). I also handle a lot of general queries about Civil War and local history as a consequence of the job and my own interests.

DW: I realize this might be a small question requiring an answer far greater than the space we have here, but, in general terms, can you speak to what Civil War-related materials are part of your collection at Rolla? Are there particularly important manuscripts under your charge that you find Civil War researchers continually fail to appreciate?

JB: Well, here's the short answer: LINK. Our Civil War collections are actually used frequently, especially Lyman G. Bennett, Moses J. Bradford, and Acquilla Standifird. Underutilized collections are the Charles Rubey, Tallman family, R. G. Woodson, and Clark Wright papers, as well as any of the GAR and UCV records.

DW: I couldn't obtain copies to read in preparation, but you've published a couple short works dealing with Phelps County (MO) and the Civil War [(Bradbury, John F. The Old Phelps County Courthouse and the Civil War. Rolla, MO: Old Courthouse Preservation Committee and the Phelps County Historical Society, 1999. 24p.) and (Bradbury, John F. Phelps County in the Civil War. Rolla, MO: The Author, 1997. 26p.)]. Of the events that occurred there during the war, which do you consider the most notable?

JB: Rolla happened to be a railhead on the direct military line between St. Louis and Springfield and was one of the strategic plums Lyon gobbled up in June 1861. Nothing happened thereafter! The feds never gave up the railhead and southern forces never attacked. The permanent garrison was rarely less than a thousand men; thousands of other troops wintered here or passed through en route to Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove. Rolla became a district headquarters post and logistical node for federal forces in southwestern Missouri and northwestern Arkansas. Nearly everything needed in the field or at Springfield was transferred from railcars to wagons at Rolla. Just as a freighting operation the effort was substantial. For example, over a thousand civilians, mostly wagonmasters and teamsters, worked for the Rolla quartermaster supporting operations during the Prairie Grove campaign.

The most notorious incident occurred in August 1865 after the war formally ended. Miller County militiamen came into Phelps County and arrested a former county judge and four of his sons south of Rolla in a case involving property allegedly stolen in Miller County by another of the judge’s sons (and former Confederate soldier). The militia party started back to Rolla, but the prisoners never made it--"shot while attempting to escape." Most people around here thought the killings were murder, and they were especially controversial as a sitting member of the Missouri legislature, Thomas J. Babcock, led the militia party. Partisan newspapers in St. Louis whipped up the controversy, resulting in an investigation and exoneration Babcock by a committee of the Radical legislature. The incident derived from guerrilla-ism and depredations between Rolla and Springfield in 1864. Occurring while federal troops were withdrawing from Missouri, the killings signaled the determination of the state’s Radical administration to kill or drive out the remaining recalcitrants. Which leads to your next question.

DW: Switching gears a bit, you recently co-edited (with Lou Wehmer) a new edition of Monks' "A History of Southern Missouri And Northern Arkansas" [see link in intro]. What inspired you to undertake a modern revisit?

JB: Anyone looking into the war along the southern border of Missouri will run across William Monks. He had quite a career as prisoner/refugee/scout/cavalry captain/postwar militia officer/attorney and litigant. He was a lightning rod. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about him, and I can't think of another Missourian who invaded Arkansas after the Civil War, not once but maybe twice! Any account by a federal counter-insurgent leader is rare and postwar narratives by Radical Republican operatives are even rarer, so Monks's history was a prime candidate for republication. If I hadn't gotten together with Lou Wehmer I'd have probably never undertaken it.

DW: Of your many published journal and magazine articles, I've only managed to read one -- a fine article by the way ["'This War is Managed Mighty Strange': The Army of Southeastern Missouri, 1862-1863." Missouri Historical Review 89 (October 1994): 28-47.] -- so I only have a thin grasp of your range of interests. What do you consider to be your main research and writing subject area?

JB: I suppose I’m a student of the Ozarks, particularly during the Civil War. The region lends itself to study as a distinct geographical and cultural region and also as a discrete military theater within the Trans-Mississippi.

DW: Your latest book, co-authored with James Denny (and reviewed here) was published by Missouri Life magazine. What led you and Denny to team up with a magazine (an unusual but not unheard of publishing partnership)?

JB: I've written a few things over the years for non-academic venues, so it wasn't much of a stretch to write for a broader audience. In this particular case, the Civil War is about the only topic in American history that commands widespread popular interest. Missouri Life already had a dedicated readership and an attractive vehicle. With the sesquicentennial of the war coming up the project seemed like an opportunity.

DW: What was your main goal in writing "The Civil War's First Blood"? Are there any plans to turn it into a series of year-length examinations of the war in Missouri?

JB: There needs to be a modern retelling of the war in Missouri. There are many excellent titles on one aspect or another, but we thought a well-illustrated narrative might satisfy those who know something about the subject as well as those who'll come to it for the first time during the sesquicentennial. There’s plenty more to the tale, but it gets more complex and harder to tell. Maybe there’ll be another volume or two if the response to First Blood is good.

DW: I hope so. I am always curious about the co-authoring dynamic. How did you and Denny manage the process?

JB: Jim did most of the heavy lifting in First Blood. We parceled out chapters according to our interests and passed our drafts back and forth for mutual editing. Readers might guess which chapters began as Jim's and which were mine, but the finished narrative is a collaborative affair. Jim also assembled a marvelous selection of images and maps.

DW: He did. There were some marvelous photographs included, and more than one map containing details not found in other published maps [First Boonville comes to mind]. Nearing the end, I'd like to ask you the same question I asked Jim McGhee. What do you find least appealing about the overall publishing picture of Missouri related Civil War books, and what are your favorite least known and underappreciated CW Missouri books?

JB: The last 20-30 years saw some very good Trans-Miss and Missouri scholarship; I expect much more to come out of the provost marshal files and judicial cases now becoming accessible in Missouri. I’d agree with McGhee that certain guerrillas may have been overdone, but there is modern interest these days in guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency. Surely there are some lessons in Missouri’s experience. For anyone interested in “Old School” topics, the Battle of Lexington, the Missouri State Militia, and Price’s Expedition all come to mind; there are several major biographies, regimental histories, and any number of regional studies yet to be written, and not for lack of sources, either. I don’t know about my favorites, but right now I’m rereading Serving with Honor: the diary of Captain Ethan Allen Pinnell, 8th Missouri Infantry (Confederate) (The Camp Pope Bookshop, 1999), and Marching With the First Nebraska: A Civil War Diary by August Scherneckau (University of Oklahoma Press, 2007). Both are excellent accounts with rich details.

DW: Finally, do you have other researching and writing projects in the works (that you can speak of publicly anyway)?

JB: Nothing about to bear, but I’m still interested in refugees in the Ozarks, some of the figures like Monks involved in counterinsurgency, and obscure sources like quartermaster records.

DW: Very good. Thanks once again for your time, John; and, readers, please check out his recent publications The Civil War's First Blood: Missouri, 1854-1861, and A History of Southern Missouri And Northern Arkansas: Being an Account of the Early Settlements, the Civil War, the Ku-Klux, And Times of Peace.

1 comment:

  1. Bradbury knows his stuff, as he should have, growing up less than a mile away from Ft Wyman, a Civil War outpost in Rolla. His in depth knowledge and passion for this subject comes through in his writing and in talking with him. I should know, I'm his brother and have a deep interest in the war too, thanks to him.


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