Since becoming co-editor of his own Civil War book series, Charles “Chuck” Grear seems like a kid in an 1860s-era candy store. Except, of course, Grear is 39 and it’s books, not candy, that has him so delighted. There are some new treats from the battle of Franklin here . . . a lost diary from Patrick Cleburne there. Insightful comments from historian Tim Smith on battlefield preservation sit in an inviting pile, and a whole lot of good stuff from the Atlanta Campaign is due to start arriving soon—enough for four or five full books.
“With every volume, there’s something new to learn,” Grear says. “It’s a chance to really go down the rabbit hole. It’s amazing to find out how little you really know.” Grear says it with the glee of discovery—a self-described “Civil Warrior” who gets to indulge and explore more and more and more.
Grear, a professor of history at Central Texas College, is co-editor of the “Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland” series published by Southern Illinois University Press. “From analyzing tactics and measuring the impact of the campaigns on civilians to scrutinizing commanders and their relationships, this exciting new series provides readers with an in-depth exploration of the Western Theater,” the series’ website says.
For Grear, the series has turned into the kind of opportunity “Civil Warriors” dream of: unbridled access to some of the smartest people, sharpest ideas, and newest discoveries in Civil War scholarship. “I have the chance to be on the ground floor of cutting-edge research,” he says. “It’s a chance to look at some things that are very unique, very eye opening. It’s also a great chance to wonder, ‘What’s going to be the next trend in Civil War history?’”
“Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland” started from a germ of an idea ten years ago when Grear and several fellow graduate students approached their mentor, noted Civil War scholar Steve Woodworth, professor of history at Texas Christian University. “We approached Dr. Woodworth about doing a series like the one Gallagher was doing,” Grear recounts, referring to the series of essay books Gary Gallagher has put together for UNC Press on the battles in the Eastern Theater. “It would allow graduate students to get an opportunity to get published while it would also shine a light on a part of the war that doesn’t get a lot of attention—shine a little bit of light away from the East and here on the West.”
Woodworth launched the series with SIUP in 2009 with a book on the Shiloh Campaign, followed with a 2010 book on Chickamauga. “After a few years, he contacted me to help him out with the series,” Grear explains. “By then I had experience publishing a couple anthologies on my own.” Grear’s early work includes The Fate of Texas: The Civil War in the Lone Star State (University of Arkansas Press, 2008) and Why Texans Fought in the Civil War (Texas A&M, 2010). Grear’s first work on the Heartland series came with 2012’s book on Chattanooga, then 2013’s Vicksburg, March 29-May 18, 1863. The most recent, the Tennessee Campaign of 1864, came out earlier this month.
“We have five volumes planned for Vicksburg. Four or five for the Atlanta Campaign,” he says. In total, Grear and Woodworth have mapped out a total of twenty-seven volumes.
Grear says the work thus far has made a real contribution to Civil War scholarship. “I’m not saying the Western Theater has been ignored,” he explains. “There are just a lot more lenses you can view it through than have been used already. It’s relatively unexplored.”
By “relative,” he’s referring to the Eastern Theater, of course. “Most of the main scholars of the Civil War are on the east coast. The sources are there. The attention is there,” he says. “Foreign diplomats who might be interested in the history are there. And of course there are larger populations—more populated cities. And because there are more people, there are more battlefields that get preserved. It becomes a regional thing.”
In contrast, the Western Theater “still has a lot of ground to be tread,” he says. “We’re filling in the gaps for a lot people.”
As a scholar and editor, Grear finds the essay collection format to be an especially effective way to do that—and, for him, especially invigorating. “When I get these essays in, mark them up, make suggestions—it opens a dialogue,” Grear says. That’s a treat because the variety of writers gives him plenty to consider. “We have a wide array, from graduate students to heavy hitters—scholars that are at different stages in their careers.”
Grear credits his co-author for the strength of the line-ups. “Woodward knows everybody. He’s the main selling point,” he chuckles.
Many of the series’ contributors are “bugles-and-saddles guys” who speak to the series’ core audience, but the editors also try to diversify the approach. “We understand that the majority of the readers want to read about the military aspects, but by branching out a little we can include a few more readers,” he says. “I enjoy the military stuff, and I definitely enjoy the social and cultural stuff. History and memory. Preservation.”
That’s why, as a reader, Grear also loves the essay format. “I like that I can get a lot more out of something in a really short amount of time,” he says. “It’s easy to pick and choose what you’re interested in. If you have extra time, then you can expand your horizons and read some of the other chapters.”
The result, Grear says, is “not exactly eclectic—just mildly, if that makes sense.”
Just mildy. Just enough. “There’s not a lot out there,” he says, “so I really want to create something that piques people’s interest.”