So why is history important? That's a great question, one that I am asked from time to time, and one that I've wonder about myself. It is easy to fall back on the old George Santayana statement, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." I think that statement should be expanded a little. "History is always repeating itself. We must study the past in order to know how to deal with the future." For me, that is why history is important.
Our history in the United States is full of areas to study, areas from which we can learn: from the American Revolution, through the Civil War and even the Space Race. I was first captivated by the Civil War era in the early 1980s. An uncle took me to a Civil War reenactment, bought me a hat and jacket, and I got to carry a flag. Having grown up watching westerns with my dad, it was a surreal experience. Here I was, surrounded by cannons and horses and swords. History had hooked me.
The 1980s and 1990s found me deeply entrenched in re-enacting. There are some who might disparage re-enactors. For me, I learned about firearms, clothing, and tactics. Requests from teachers to talk to their students often rolled in, and I began to dig deeply into the literature of the period. I wanted to be able answer the questions asked by the kids and the spectators. The Life of Johnny Reb by Bell Wiley, and Soldiers Blue and Gray by James I Robertons quickly became well-read volumes that I kept at hand. A whole new world opened with each promotion. After gaining an intimate knowledge of the life of a common soldier, the next most helpful experience was when I started commanding a battalion. I had to learn how to maneuver large groups of men in the field. This study allowed me to understand what commanders where saying in their letters and official reports. I don't participate in many re-enactments any more, but I do volunteer as an interpreter several weekends a year to various historic sites, trying to bring the life of people from the mid-1860s to life for visitors.
In 1995, my young bride and I moved to Boone, North Carolina, for her to attend graduate school. I began to spend countless hours in the library of Appalachian State, digging even more deeply into the past. Quickly I discovered a lack of material when it came to Confederate regiments. Out of seventy-plus North Carolina regiments, only one, the Sixth North Carolina State Troops, had what could be termed a modern regimental history. So I set out to write one, selecting the Thirty-seventh North Carolina Troops. Often I say that "I thought I knew a lot about the War." I had picked one of the hardest-fighting regiments in the Army of Northern Virginia. They were involved in over thirty-five battles or skirmishes. But I persevered, and the book was released in 2003. Other books soon followed. There was a history of the battle of Hanover Court House, Virginia (2006), and of the Fifty-eighth North Carolina Troops (2010).
Going to various towns and cities to do research on regiments has also shown me the need for community-based Civil War histories. A few years ago, while in Charlotte, I asked why there was no history of the Queen City and the War. I was astounded when I was told that there "was not enough material" out there to write that book. Charlotte had several newspapers throughout the war. There would be plenty of source material to draw upon. Civil War Charlotte was released in 2012. That was followed by Watauga County, North Carolina, in the Civil War (2013) and Capitals of the Confederacy (2015).
Overall, I have written twenty-two books. The last was a history of the Branch-Lane Brigade, which is to be published by Savas Batie in the near future. At present, I am working on a history of the Civil War along the North Carolina- Tennessee border. If you are familiar with my work, it should come as no surprise that I write from the bottom up, from the soldier's perspective. Their lives and experiences, along with the communities from which they came, are equally as important as the grand sweeping narratives of the Civil War. At the same time, I write for the general public. While my books are well researched and always documented, they are for regular folks. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to walk into a library or bookstore and find people reading one of my books, hopefully enriching their own lives and telling them about the experiences of their ancestors and the communities in which they live.
I guess you would like some of the specs: I am the author of twenty-two books, and my articles have appeared in Civil War Times, America's Civil War, Gettysburg Magazine, Confederate Veteran, Camp Chase Gazette, and the Tar Heel Junior Historians. I have appeared on several local television programs, and in 2016, in Blood and Fury: America's Civil War on the American Heroes Chanel. In 2012, I wrote a preface for Sharyn McCrumb's re-release of Ghost Riders, a novel of the Blalocks and Western North Carolina. I am a graduate of the University of Alabama, who honored me with the 2012 Alice Parker Award for Outstanding Literature and Arts. In 2010, I was named the North Carolina Historian of the Year by the North Carolina Society of Historians. They have also honored with several other awards, as have the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. In 2015, my family was honored as the Volunteers of the Year for the Pisgah District, Blue Ridge Parkway, National Park Service.
We have lived in western North Carolina for 21 years. If I had time for a hobby, it would be photography, and I do get to capture a fair number of images of historic sites, battlefields, cemeteries, and old houses.
Thanks for visiting my page, and for learning a little more about my work.