Eric Wittenberg described his latest publishing project, co-written by Scott Mingus, as “thorough.” And the extensive research that went into the book—not to mention its 500-page duration—is proof of that.
The Second Battle of Winchester: The Confederate Victory that Opened the Door to Gettysburg, which took 18 months to complete, focuses on the social history, personalities, and tactics of the battle, which opened on this date in 1863 and lasted through June 15.
“Second Winchester is a severely overlooked action,” Wittenberg said. “The Union garrison there was a significant roadblock to the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania and acted as a threat to Robert E. Lee’s tail and lines of supply and communication. Unless it could be taken, it threatened the Army of Northern Virginia. The Confederate movement on Winchester was brilliantly designed and brilliantly executed, and hinted strongly the Richard S. Ewell was a worthy and competent successor to Stonewall Jackson. Finally, the tactics themselves are fascinating. These movements were complex and difficult.”
At the center of the story are Confederate General Richard Stoddert Ewell and Union General Robert Huston Milroy, polar opposites in terms of their tactical approaches.
Ewell, the commander of the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, did “extremely well” at Second Winchester, Wittenberg said. And, in turn, he was held to high expectations by his own infantry and the Union Army.
Milroy, on the other hand, disobeyed orders to evacuate the town the Union army occupied. According to Wittenberg, Milroy should have evacuated the area, but because he didn’t, half of his command was captured. “Eighty-five hundred men he went into battle with,” Wittenberg said. “Literally half of them were taken prisoner.”
The battle, fought between June 13 and June 15 as part of the Gettysburg Campaign, resulted in the Confederate capture of Winchester, Virginia, and much of Milroy’s army—as Ewell and his men moved through the Shenandoah Valley towards Pennsylvania. The ultimate cost of Milroy’s actions: 4,443 casualties and losses.
According to Wittenberg, his research led him to a place of deference regarding Ewell and confusion assessing Milroy—something he didn’t expect.
“[I gained] a much greater appreciation for the fine job Ewell did there and a great deal of puzzlement at why Milroy would have elected to disobey his orders and remain there,” Wittenberg said. “[The book] has more of a focus on Milroy because Milroy is an interesting character.”
Wittenberg added that Second Battle of Winchester, which he believes to be a “fully told story,” puts the battle in its full, proper context after 153 years. In turn, he said the piece differentiates itself from other scholarship on the battle because this piece was started from “whole cloth.”
According to Wittenberg, both he and Mingus sorted through hundreds of contemporary newspaper accounts and manuscripts. And, while writing their separate parts of the manuscript wasn’t any easy feat, Wittenberg added that the two’s writing meshed together well.
“Scott and I divided up the primary responsibilities for writing the chapters of the book,” Wittenberg explained. “Those he was responsible for, he wrote the first draft. Those I was responsible for, I wrote the first draft. We then fleshed out each other’s work by adding material, and we also edited and cleaned up each other’s drafts.”
Although he has co-authored books before, working with Mingus was a unique experience—and a treat, Wittenberg added. “It all came together quite nicely and Scott was a pleasure to work with,” he said. “One of Scott’s books was published by a publishing company I was a part of [Ironclad publishing Company] and I actually was responsible for getting it out. So, yes, I’ve worked together with him in that aspect, but we hadn’t written a book together before.”
Wittenberg, an admitted “cavalry guy,” said this piece serves as a departure for him, too.
“This is the first infantry battle that I’ve really written extensively on,” Wittenberg said. “This is a little different for me.”
Ted Savas, the owner of Savas Beatie, LLC, the publisher, dubbed the work a likely award-winner.
“Folks, you know I know a little something about the Civil War,” Savas said in a prepared statement. “I can tell you this study blew me away. I had no idea Second Winchester was so interesting, so complex, and so understudied. I will go out on a limb and call this an award-winning book and perhaps the best single-volume campaign study I have read in a long time.”
Wittenberg is confident the book will make a valuable contribution to the overall literature. “For the first time, Scott and I have fleshed these actions out after finding hundreds of previously unknown sources,” he said, “and we hope that we have finally put the emphasis on this action as a stand-alone battle rather than as a sideshow of the Gettysburg Campaign that it has long deserved but has always lacked.”