Interview with authors of new Gettysburg book
Johnstown, Pennsylvania, authors James and Suzanne Gindlesperger have written what will surely become one of the more popular books for tourists to take home after their visits to the Gettysburg National Military Park. When I am sitting in Gettysburg’s bookshops for my frequent autograph / book signing sessions, I often overhear people discussing which book they should purchase to take home to show their friends and families what they had seen on their battlefield visit, and there have been a few good choices in the past that have been representative. Now, the Gindlespergers’ colorful new book, So You Think You Know Gettysburg? The Stories Behind the Monuments and the Men Who Fought One of America’s Most Epic Battles, has been added to the line-up of titles that I will point out to the inquirers.
I have reviewed this book on my CHARGE! wargaming, diorama, and Civil War book blog. Read the complete review HERE.
I was fortunate enough to interview the Gindlespergers. Here is the transcript of that discussion.
1. So You Think You Know Gettysburg is a captivating book, one that combines excellent photography of the modern battlefield with anecdotes and incidents from the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg in a manner that is both entertaining and educational. What inspired you to write the book?
We have been to Gettysburg so many times and have collected so many photos that we thought we’d select our favorites and do a photo essay of Gettysburg. Both our agent (Rita Rosenkranz) and publisher (John F. Blair, Publisher) thought the book would do better in the format you see now. As you can see, our original intent didn’t change a whole lot, but it still enabled us to reach our goal of sharing photos and adding the stories of our favorite Civil War battlefield.
2. More than 1,000 books have been written on the Gettysburg Campaign and the battle (five of which are my own). Yet, there remains so much to be told, and some of the information presented in your book is fresh and vibrant. How did you research the textual material and then make it come alive for the modern reader?
We actually didn’t have to do much in the way of research, since we had accumulated these stories already over the course of our travels to the Gettysburg area. It was more a matter of just writing them down after checking a few facts to make sure we hadn’t remembered things incorrectly. We did have to go back and determine the GPS coordinates for each site, but that didn’t take much persuasion. Just another excuse to go back to Gettysburg!
3. I often see families tramping the battlefield using reference books such as yours to help them understand the story behind the men and the monuments. To the casual Gettysburg buff who only has time to visit a portion of the battlefield, which sections of your book should he or she concentrate on to get the broadest overview?
It depends on how much time they have. If they have enough time it would be good if they could do it all. If not (and most families will be there for only one or two days, most likely) they should probably try to hit the highlights that most tourists visit (Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, Pickett’s Charge, etc.) and just read about the rest. The lesser visited sites are, in some cases, a little tough to locate and would take valuable time that could better be spent on the main points. Obviously this would take some careful planning to pull off. Using our book in conjunction with the Auto Tour may be the easiest way to do that .
4. Which monument covered in your book is your favorite, and why? Tell us the story behind that memorial and why it fascinates you so much.
Remember you are asking two of us, so as you would expect, we have different answers! I have a couple of favorites, and one isn’t an actual monument. That one is the rock carving near Spangler Meadow where Augustus Coble of the 1st North Carolina came back and carved his name on the rock from where he fought. We like it because it was the first rock carving we ever found, so it has some sentimental value, but also because it showed the grip the battle had on the men who fought. Coming to Gettysburg from North Carolina was not an easy task when Coble did it, and it took some effort on his part. Once he got there, he felt compelled to go to the place that had to have been remarkably scary at the time he was there, despite the fact that it probably included some bad memories. We can only imagine how moving it must have been for him. We’re glad he did it.
My other favorite is the monument to the Excelsior Brigade. I like that one because of the irony involved. Organized by Gen. Daniel Sickles, the brigade planned to honor the general by placing his bust in the interior portion of the monument. When the time came to do that, however, the money was gone. Investigation showed that it most likely had been taken by Sickles himself, robbing him of the opportunity of seeing his likeness depicted in perpetuity.
Sue has her own two favorites, and it is tough to disagree with her on this. Here is what she has to say: the Eleventh Pennsylvania Infantry because of my admiration for the loyalty of Sallie, and the Chapman marker, which I discovered when that part of the battlefield was overgrown and you could barely see it. My curiosity was stirred as to who he was and why he was given a small marker.
Those are our favorites today. We have such a strong affection for Gettysburg that we may have two other favorites tomorrow and two different ones next week. For now, though, we like these.
5. You have made more than 100 visits to Gettysburg to research the book and take the dozens of beautiful photographs that grace its pages. I am sure many battlefield visitors will want to take home a copy of your book as a memory of the monuments they visited. What makes this book stand out as a souvenir of their visit, and, perhaps more importantly, what kinds of information and details can they expect to find in its pages to help them understand the people, places, and events of that long ago Civil War battle?
As Sue likes to point out, we really wanted to show Gettysburg as more than just another battle. We wanted to bring the participants to life for the reader. We tried to include the stories that aren’t often included in the history books or the guidebooks about the battle. That information is readily available in many sources, and we wanted our book to be different. We tried to include not only the historical facts (how many of this regiment died, how did they come to be in this particular location, etc.) but also the controversies (e.g., the 72nd Pennsylvania monument), the poignancy (Amos Humiston, the body of the woman found in front of the Union line at Pickett’s Charge, or the story of the participation of the boys from the University of Mississippi as part of the 11th Mississippi), or things that the average visitor may not even knows exist (e.g., the rock carving on LRT depicting the death of Strong Vincent, or the Timbers Farm foundation). Unusual stories such as the problems encountered by the 4th Ohio and the material used in their monument, or the story of Elizabeth Thorn, also found their way into the book.
Actually, there is so much interesting material available on Gettysburg that we had to resist the urge to include everything. Depending on the public’s interest, we may consider doing a second volume so we can make those stories available, as well.
6. Battlefield preservation is an area of mutual interest. We are fortunate enough that so much of Gettysburg has been preserved so authors such as yourselves can record for posterity the scenes and sights of a well preserved battlefield. Yet, so many other historic sites, including parts of Gettysburg itself, are being threatened by modern suburban sprawl. What can young readers glean from your book that will help them take the message to their own communities to help preservation efforts?
We truly hope that our book may inspire people to realize what treasures these battlefields are, and that once they are gone they are gone forever. We’ve already lost far too much important acreage, and more is being threatened every day. On our travels to other battlefields we talk to people and learn that many of them just want to see where an ancestor fought, and to do that they have to go inside a shopping mall or auto dealership. We met a couple in Fredericksburg a few years ago who told us that the wife’s great-great-grandfather was killed in what is now the frozen food section of a local supermarket. That’s wrong. We would never stand still for a casino or super-sized shopping mall on Omaha Beach, and we shouldn’t allow it on or near a Civil War battlefield, either. We have to honor our veterans no matter what war they fought in. If our book piques the interest of someone who was otherwise indifferent to what we are in danger of losing, we will have achieved our goal.
Learning the history of our country is more than just reading about it. We hope to bring families to literally touch history, to walk where men and women died for this country, to know that it was real.
Sorry for the soapbox, but this is something we are very passionate about, as you can see.
7. Two of my sons are professional historians; one teaches history on the community college level including at Gettysburg. Your book should appeal to students at the high school and college level in that it combines color graphics and photos with lively and easy to read prose. Yet, I learned a few new facts from the text. Who is your targeted audience(s) and what about the book will appeal the most to them?
Our primary target was the casual Gettysburg visitor who may need some guidance on what to see, and then when he sees it, what happened at that location. Our secondary target audience was the visitor who had already been there and just wanted to learn a little more about what the had seen. We had often said we would never write a book on Gettysburg because there are already so many good ones, but this looked like something that hadn’t been done, so we took a chance. We also wanted to let readers know where the photo was taken, so they could take their own photos if they chose to do so. We think the lesser told human interest stories probably have the most appeal. They are our favorites, anyway.
8. Good luck with sales of this entertaining book! Are you planning to do a similar book for Antietam or some other popular battlefield? What’s next?
Thanks for the kind words, as well as the opportunity to talk to you. If this book finds a niche, we may do a second version on Gettysburg to cover many of the things we didn’t have room to include in this one. Antietam, Fredericksburg, Mannassas . . . all have their own fascination (for us and we believe for others) and could be future works. Right now, we don’t have any definite plans, although Jim has been working on researching the trial of Henry Wirz, Commandant of Andersonville Prison, and we are hoping that that book becomes a reality at some point.
Thanks again, Scott. We appreciate your interest and support.