Editing the Civil War in the Heartland

Grear Professional PictureSince 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.”

CWCH_logoWoodworth 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.”

15 Responses to Editing the Civil War in the Heartland

  1. I believe that the Western Theatre is greatly under appreciated and under represented. I visited Franklin Tennessee last June which was my first Western battlefield and only then did I appreciate the magnitude and importance of the Western Theatre. I then was fortunate to be able to do a 3 day Vicksburg Campaign tour with Ed Bearss and Terry Winschel in November, visiting Chickamauga on the way out and Brice’s Crossroads, Corinth, Shilo,Franklin, and Stones Riverr on the way back. Unfortunately these battlefields are a long way from my home in Maryland.
    I recently became program chair of the Hagerstown Civil War Roundtable and have found it very difficult to find speakers on the Western Theatre with our limited budget since most of the experts live quite a distance from us. So if we can somehow arrange for more of the Western Theatre experts so swing by several Eastern Roundtables on the same trip to reduce travel expenses we might be able to generate more interest. So I definitely agree that we need to get the word out.

    1. Sounds like you had a great roadtrip. Aside from the “usual suspects” among the Western experts, we have a couple folks in the ECW who have some expertise in various Wastern battles. If you have anything specific you’re looking for, just email us and we can try and get you connected: emergingcivilwar@gmail.com.

  2. Goodness. Franklin, Chickamauga, Shiloh, Franklin, Stones River. What a life. As Judge Smails once said in Caddyshack, “don’t you guys ever work?”

  3. ECW: Thanks for publicizing “Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland.” Like Charlie, I’m originally from the East Coast. Thus, all of my early Civil War reading and battlefield visits involved the Eastern Theater. It was only after I moved to Ohio several decades ago that my reading and battlefield visits began focusing on the Western Theater.
    Both being Ohioans, Grant and Sherman rightly realized that the Civil War would ultimately be won or lost in the Western Theater.
    Although I haven’t read any of the books listed in the “Heartland” series, two of Professor Woodworth’s tomes – Nothing But Victory and Jefferson Davis and His Generals – are proudly displayed in my home library. Both books are not only well researched but also finely written, with an eye for the interesting and illuminating detail. Woodworth reminds me of another Civil War researcher and writer – a fella named Bruce Catton, whose books I started reading as a teenager many, many years ago.
    Again, congrats to ECW.

    1. Thanks, Bob. We appreciate your kind words. Please do check out the “Heartland” Series — there are some great writers contributing to what is quickly becoming an excellent body of material.

  4. I was proud to be a part of the series Chickamauga volume, and I have all of the others to date. He’s right, there is some really great material seeing the light of day via this series.

    The Cleburne Diary referred to, BTW, was discovered by ECW’s own Lee White, as originally discovered in a North Georgia newspaper from the 1880s, which identified the transcript as by an anonymous author.

  5. Hello ECW
    Beginning with Vol. 2 Chickamauga in this series the volumes have a map at the beginning of the front of the book showing the major battles of the western theater. Then at the back is a page listing books that are or will be in the series. There are 17 titles listed. Five of which are Vicksburg related and five Georgia Campaign related. I was interested to hear Prof. Grear state there were already 29 volumes planned. Currently besides the Vicksburg and Georgia books, Shiloh, Chickamauga, Chattanoga, Tennessee 1864, Forts Henry and Donelson, Kentucky Campaign and Iuka and Corinth are all listed. I was trying to figure out what campaigns or other battles the series would include. One battle that wasn’t in the list was Stones River.

    I think this series was really needed and hopefully will draw more attention to the western theater. I think CW publishing as a whole has started to see a shift towards the events/participants west of The Appalachians. I think with the Univ. Of Tennessee’s series on the western theater, a number of books recently published on battles in the Georgia Campaign(Earl Hess) and a couple of other interesting essay collections, the western theater is finally getting its due.

    Thanks for the information on the SIU series.


    1. I’m glad we’ve given you some more books to look forward to.

      We agree that more attention needs to focus on the Western Theater. We have four books in the ECW Series slated for release this year that focus on the West, with three others slated for 2017. Keep your eyes peeled!

  6. The projection of 29 would seem to suggest that Stones River and Perryville might also get coverage (and while we’re at it, maybe the Iuka/Corinth duet). When I saw the original list, it struck me that Stones River might be getting the same avoidance treatment that Second BR seemed to be getting from the Gallagher series. But in the recent Cold Harbor-Crater volume in that series, the editor projected that both Bull Runs will get books.

    1. Speaking of Bull Run, if you haven’t checked out John Hennessy’s re-release of his First Bull Run book, check it out. It’s about 70% compared to the first edition.

      1. Chris: I have it and it’s a definite upgrade from the Howard first edition. Unfortunately, I doubt that the same process will apply to his excellent 2BR map study.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!