How long does it typically take you to create a map of a famous battle?
It typically takes six to eight months to do the research, draft the map, and then ink in the data and watercolor the whole concern. In the midst of that process, I also work out the information and secure the images for the reverse side of the map. That six or eight months means seven days a week, morning, noon and night. The maps are great fun but they’re also a lot of work.
What interests you most about the Civil War?
The most interesting thing about the Civil War is the participants. The panoply of characters, Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, JEB Stuart, and more obscure characters like Richard Ewell (he married a widow and always introduced his wife as “Mrs. Brown”), Confederate general Joe Johnston who hated president Jeff Davis so much that you wouldn’t know from his memoir that he was fighting the Yankees, he’s always fighting Davis. Then George B. McClellan, Union general whose reputation collapsed because the stupid, vainglorious letters he wrote to his wife revealed him to be a supercilious jerk. There was General George Custer (of Little Big Horn fame) who was a brilliant cavalry leader who perfumed his flowing locks and designed a uniform that made him look like a circus performer. It was a wild bunch of characters. England had Dickens’ characters. We had these guys. Some of the most noble people in history, and some of the most ignoble, made up the cast of our Civil War.
Also, most wars are futile. For example, the First World War led directly to the Second World War and the Second World War wasn’t even over when the Cold War got underway. In contrast, the Civil War was fought to end slavery and preserve the United States. When the Civil War was over, slavery was dead and the United States lived. Success!
Who do you think was the greatest Confederate General?
I think Stonewall Jackson was the South’s great general but he had the advantage in that regard of dying too early in the war to confront the best Union generals. But I also think there was something vaguely—for want of a better term—autistic, about him. He seems kind of blank in terms of personality and he was a bewildering figure to his fellow generals. And his successes came in the first half of the war when the south fought with the immense advantage of a friendly population and in familiar countryside. His Valley Campaign, upon which his fame primarily rests, would not have been possible once Union forces knew the roads and topography as well as he did. But circumstances are what they are and he was, in my mind, the best in the 1861-1863 timeframe.
What is the oldest battle that you mapped?
The oldest battle I’ve mapped is the Revolutionary battlefield of Saratoga in NYS. It was fought in 1777. The oldest Civil War battlefield I’ve mapped is Manassas or Bull Run, VA. Two battles were fought there, 1861 and 1862.