An Interview with Daniel Davis and Phillip Greenwalt

An Interview with Daniel Davis and Phillip Greenwalt, authors of
Hurricane from the Heavens:
The Battle of Cold Harbor, May 26–June 5, 1864

(Interview Courtesy of Savas Beatie, LLC)

Q: Why did you decide to write the book?

PG: Cold Harbor is the end of the Overland Campaign, the final engagement between Grant and Lee before the armies moved toward Petersburg and the thereafter siege. What had started at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5 ended at Cold Harbor and the devastation, destruction, bloodshed, and every other negative connotation one can conjure up about war happened at this innocuous Virginia crossroads. Couple that with the 150th anniversary upcoming and the hope to get people out to the battlefield to understand and learn about the Overland Campaign and Cold Harbor was the emphasis for me to write this book.

DD: I have always been fascinated with the fighting between Grant and Lee in the spring of 1864. I think Cold Harbor encapsulates many aspects of the Overland Campaign such as the massive assaults at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania and the maneuver of the North Anna. Being able to write about the battle, while also touching on some of the other battles, was particularly appealing.

Q: What was the most exciting part of writing this book?

PG: Besides having the chance to hike the battlefields with the co-author and great friend Dan (along with ECW Series editor Chris Mackowski), the chance to discover the history of this battle specifically and the campaign in general. There are a lot of myths and accepted preconceptions about the Battle of Cold Harbor that we wanted to move away from. Furthermore, there seemed to be a need for a book to introduce people to this part of the campaign and act as the roadmap for further exploration and reading.

DD: Working with Phil, Chris Mackowski, and Kris White has been a blast. Beyond that, what is exciting for me is bringing the stories of men who have been relatively forgotten to light. One of those individuals is a Union brigade commander named Emory Upton. Upton was well ahead of his time as far as warfare was concerned and he revolutionized offensive infantry tactics. Rather than having his men attack in the traditional Napoleonic style of approaching the enemy in two lines and opening fire, Upton formed his men in a compact column that was to storm across the open field and not fire until they were within the enemy lines. He executed this type of an attack with some success at Spotsylvania. The Federal high command was so impressed with it, that the tactics were employed during the two main Federal assaults at Cold Harbor.

Q: What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing?

PG: For me, it was weaving the narrative with the personal accounts that we came across. Being able to dig into some primary sources and use the voices of the participants in moving the history along was exciting. The description and imagery the soldiers used to express what they were enduring is a great asset to have in telling a complete historical account. Weaving them in with my writing was the most enjoyable part.

DD: Echoing Phil, I enjoy seeing the story take shape. As you weave the story together and the farther you get along, the story will begin to tell itself. It is really enjoyable to see that and to see the story flow.

Q: What makes this book unique from others on the same topic?

PG: This book fills the void for an interested enthusiast to pick up. There are great micro tactical studies that have been written by noted and esteemed historians and they go in-depth and provide great analysis. But, if someone wants a book that introduces the battle, yet provides a good overview, and a driving tour to get one onto the sites the men fought, bled, and died over, then this is your book. In addition, if you already have a general overview and want a book that adds to your knowledge and provides a road map for further study, then this book fills that category too.

DD: What I think makes the book unique is the range of interpretation that readers will find at each tour stop. There, readers will get a detailed overview of the site’s significance. It is essentially a smaller, engaging story within the larger narrative. We’ve shaped them so that readers can easily navigate through them, either as a companion on the battlefield or general reading at home.

Q: What are your plans after this project?

PG: Dan and I have a few ideas brewing and are in discussion about another joint battlefield study as part of the Emerging Civil War Series. We also both have individual projects in the works too. So stay tuned!

DD: No question, we are definitely keeping busy.

Q: Thank you for your time, we appreciate it.

PG: Thank you, it was a pleasure chatting with you.

DD: Yes, thank you.

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