The deadliest war in U.S. history was not fought on the beaches of Normandy or in the jungles of Korea but here on the East Coast. More than three million men fought in the Civil War, with the deadliest single-day of battle occurring in Maryland during the Battle of Antietam when 23,000 men died. The Civil War redefined what it meant to fight for ones country.
Philadelphia native, Civil War author and CSM President Bradley M. Gottfried will host a presentation and discussion of his books and how the war shaped our nation as part of the College of Southern Marylands Connections Literary Series on Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m., at the Leonardtown Campus, Building A, Auditorium, Room 206.
Gottfried has a doctorate in zoology from Miami University, a master of science in biology from Western Illinois University and a bachelors in biology from West Chester University. He is the author of six books including, Stopping Pickett: The History of the Philadelphia Brigade, Roads to Gettysburg: Lee's Invasion of the North, 1863, The Brigades of Gettysburg: The Union and Confederate Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg, Kearnys Own: The History of the First New Jersey Brigade, The Maps of Gettysburg :The Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 – July 13, 1863, and the forthcoming The Artillery of Gettysburg. He is a regular contributor to Gettysburg Magazine and Civil War Times Illustrated.
In preparation for CSMs Connections program, Gottfried discussed aspects of his books and how the Civil War is a topic of constant inquiry and reflection.
CSM: When did your interest in the Civil War begin and how has it progressed through the years? Do you find yourself interested in different components of the war than you used to be, or are some battles more interesting now that you have written about the war extensively?
Gottfried: My interest in the Civil War began when I was about 10 years old, living in Philadelphia. When I went off to college, I put all of my books away and with them my interest in the topic. About 30 years ago, when I returned to the Philadelphia area my interest in this period of history returned. I do look at the period differently now. When I was younger, it was primarily fascination with the idea of battle. Now, I look at each battle in terms of how it shaped the outcome of the war as a whole. I am also more interested in the human aspects of the war. What was it like to live during that difficult period of American history? How did volunteer soldiers cope with life in the camps and battlefield conditions?
CSM: What, to you, is the most important thing people should know about the First New Jersey Brigade?
Gottfried: The First New Jersey Brigade (FNJB) was one of the few units that fought in the entire war. Most units were mustered into the service for about three years and then went out of existence or were a mere skeleton of their former selves. The FNJB is also unique in that they participated in virtually every campaign in the Eastern Theatre.
CSM: What skills do you think General Phillip Kearny possessed that made it possible for him to transform the FNJB into a cohesive fighting unit?
Gottfried: Phil Kearny was a no-nonsense commander who whipped his volunteers into a cohesive fighting unit. Initially, they hated him for it, but they came to understand how important his actions were to their success and survival. Like a lot of America's wars, we started off with volunteer armies that were slowly molded into effective fighting forces.
CSM: “Kearny's Own” contains hundreds of first-person accounts of the war. Who or what, to you, is the defining character/moment of the brigades history?
Gottfried: One of the brigade's defining moments was at the terrible battle of Spotsylvania in 1864, when because of an error in their commander's judgment, the brigade essentially made a suicide attack on the Confederate works. Despite the great odds against the unit, it continued forward, losing almost half of its men in the process.
CSM: In your newest book, “Maps of Gettysburg,” you chronicle the precise movements of the Union and Confederate forces using maps and first-hand accounts. Could you briefly describe your process for creating the maps and how you pieced them together with the corresponding witness accounts?
Gottfried: When I began the project, I never thought I would produce the maps in addition to the narrative. But I got tired working with cartographers who were inflexible in their approach or prima donnas, so I learned how to generate the maps myself and therefore retained creative control of the entire project. Piecing together the eyewitness accounts was not difficult as there were so many of them and the events of the battle are fairly well understood.
CSM: What do you think modern war strategists can learn from studying Civil War battles?
Gottfried: Civil War battles are still studied at the military academies because they provide important leadership lessons on how soldiers react in war-time conditions, and how tactics can change the outcome of a battle.
Since 1990, the Connections Literary Series has held readings featuring national award-winning contemporary writers, poets and artists who share their work and time with residents of Southern Maryland. All readings begin at 7:30 p.m. The cost is $2, general admission. Tickets are available the night of each reading. For information call, 301-934-7864 or 301-870-3008, Ext. 7864 for Charles County; 240-725-5499, Ext. 7864 for St. Marys County or 443-550-6199, Ext. 7864 for Calvert County or visit http://www.csmd.edu/Connections/.