When I was eight years old, my grandparents owned a farm on the outskirts of Carthage, Missouri. Their house had a very large combination living room and family room with built-in bookshelves. They wanted something to dress up the place and so they bought a few boxes of book at an estate sale.
I was taken by some hefty illustrated volumes about coal mining and coal mining equipment, but my attention was really drawn to a book with large maps. It was The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged by Major D. W. Reed. Reed not only gave an overview of the campaign, but also traced the movements of each brigade. I was hooked.
I started reenacting the battle. My musket was a yardstick and around the Fourth of July I had a cannon – a length of pipe into which I inserted lit cherry bombs. It made an impressive and noisy display. Not as good as the real thing but to an eight-year old boy a thing to be proud of. When the weather was bad and, in the winter, I reenacted the battle with playing cards. The black cards were the Union and the red cards were the Confederates.
We moved to Springfield, Missouri not long after. I convinced my father to make our Sunday drives (does anyone remember when Sunday drives were a thing?) searches for battlefields. He worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, which in those days ran right through the Wilson’s Creek Battlefield. We found the monument to General Nathaniel Lyon and not much else. It would be several years before the battlefield became a National Park. We also went to Pea Ridge and found Elkhorn Tavern (or at least the rebuilt version there today). It became a National Park later as well. An ancestor was mortally wounded near Elkhorn Tavern on the first day of the battle while serving in Company A, Phelps’ Missouri Infantry, fighting fellow Missourians from General Sterling Price’s command. We searched for the location of the Battle of Carthage. And we didn’t even know there was Battle of Springfield (January 1863) right in our hometown!
Why did we have trouble finding these places? Because we could find practically nothing about the Civil War on Missouri -- this in a state that had the third most military engagements of the war. The Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi Theater was – at least for us – practically unknown in the available literature. (Times have fortunately changed.)
And that is why I am pleased to be able to research and write books and articles about this aspect of the Civil War. Please take a look at my Civil War books and the brief articles posted in my blog.
My next project is another Missouri-related subject, tentatively titled Steamboat Disasters on the Lower Missouri River, written with my wife, Vicki Berger Erwin. (For you Civil War aficionados there will be chapter about the guerrilla attack on the steamer New Sam Gaty on March 28, 1863, near Sibley, Missouri). It will be published by History Press in late 2019 or early 2020.
The book that started it all
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