The Many Historical Hats of Phillip S. Greenwalt

Readers stand in line at the Fredericksburg Area Museum as Phill Greenwalt signs copies of his books
Readers stand in line at the Fredericksburg Area Museum as Phill Greenwalt signs copies of his books

By ECW Correspondent Pat Tintle

Phillip S. Greenwalt is no stranger to history.

His love for the subject stems from nostalgia, when, as a child, his father would take him to Civil War battlefields and explain the historical impact the dirt Phill stood on had on American history.

“He took me to battlefields before he ever took me to Disney World,” Greenwalt said. “The Civil War has always been more of a passion. I’ve been hooked since I was three years old when my father took me to my first reenactment.”

Greenwalt stays true to his passion to this day. The Maryland native is a park ranger and historian for the National Park Service at George Washington Birthplace National Monument and the Thomas Stone National Historic Site. Among his duties, he is the social media coordinator for the sites, bringing the colonial landmarks into the modern era via Facebook and other online platforms.

Greenwalt signs books for a fan at Totopotomoy Creek
Greenwalt signs books for a fan at Totopotomoy Creek

Now, Greenwalt awaits the publication of his third book in the Emerging Civil War Series, Calamity in Carolina: The Battles of Averasboro and Bentonville, which recounts two of the most-often forgotten battles from the war’s later years.

Averasboro and Bentonville were fought on Mar. 16 and Mar. 19-21, 1865 in central North Carolina. The fields still stand today, nearly untouched.

Greenwalt co-authored the book with his friend and colleague, Daniel T. Davis. He pointed out how the two writers feed off one another’s work, whether it is on a battlefield or behind a computer screen.

“This is the third book we’ve written together,” Greenwalt said. “I’m working with a great friend, but we’re also two different kinds of historians. Dan is just a walking encyclopedia basically. If you drop him down onto a battlefield, he knows the regiment and this and that. I’m more of a social historian, so I’m more interested in the stories and how they connect.”

When one writer is stuck, the other steps in to help.

“We work well together because we compliment each other,” Greenwalt explained. “It’s harder for me to keep all the events straight and sometimes Dan has trouble with expanding, getting out of what we call ‘the weeds,’ so we work great together that way. You get two different methods so you get the full picture.”

Davis focuses on the Union, while Greenwalt writes on the Confederacy.

“Dan and I thought that it would be best to break the books up that way,” Greenwalt said. “We could then each concentrate on writing the entire book from that one perspective, either Northern or Southern. Then we could mesh the transitions and also share any sources we came across.”

The duo’s first book collaboration was Bloody Autumn: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, which they follow last spring with Hurricane from the Heavens: The Battle of Cold Harbor, May 26-June 5, 1864.

The Emerging Civil War Series focuses on bringing the unfamiliar reader an introduction into the more detailed, and complex, world the United States was thrown into a century and a half ago. However, this does not mean that the Civil War expert cannot learn, or even take enjoyment, from the series, according to Greenwalt.

“These books are the foundation,” Greenwalt said. “If you know nothing about the battle or the campaign or even the Civil War—if you pick up any of the books in the series, they give you that foundation. It also provides consistent reading if you want to go on. But the goal is to attract all audiences and spectrums of enthusiasm.”

Greenwalt not only loves the writing in Calamity in Carolina, but he also credits other aspects found between the covers that create an engaging and accurate read. “We make sure we have a process of fact checking by having two or three different historians look through it,” he said.

He points specifically to ways the book helps a reader understand the battlefields. “You have the great detailed maps, a lot of pictures from the Library of Congress, and present-day photos of the battlefields, ” he said. “That gives a great historical and modern perspective of the ground.”

With the 150th anniversary of the battles just one month away, Greenwalt wants readers to learn about a pivotal fight between two armies united by land, but separated by ideology.

“We hope that it provides a new outlook for some of the more experienced (readers),” Greenwalt said.

Having been writing history for seven years, Greenwalt, while still a relatively “young” writer, is no longer the graduate student staying up late to study for an exam, but rather a historian with a message to communicate.

“I’m a park ranger in real life, so I do a lot of writing there,” Greenwalt said. “I guess I’ve really been writing history since my first term paper in college.”

Greenwalt wants to bring Averasboro and Bentonville back into the historical eye; as the anniversary approaches, there is no better time to do so.

“There’s been a lot of great work done on those sites,” Greenwalt said, referring to Averasboro and Bentonville. “But they don’t have the name recognition. That was the emphasis (of the book), and with the 150th (anniversary of the battles) coming up, that was another emphasis.”

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