The Last Road North

Layout 1The Last Road North was a long one.

The latest book in the Emerging Civil War Series appeared on my porch this week: The Last Road North: A Guide to the Gettysburg Campaign, 1863 by Rob Orrison and Dan Welch. Nearly two years in the making—which is long by ECWS standards—the book traveled a long road to get here.

Originally slated as something Kris White and I were going to do as part of our ongoing series of Gettysburg books, we decided to hand it off to Dan after seeing the great job he did on an appendix for Fight Like the Devil: The First Day at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863. With plenty else for us to do, and wanting to get Dan more involved in ECW, we thought he’d make the perfect fit.

Patterned after the successful No Turning Back: A Guide to the 1864 Overland Campaign by Bert Dunkerly, Don Pfanz, and Dave Ruth, The Last Road North followed a tour route format. As we tied its route more and more to the Civil War Trails system, Dan tapped Rob to help shape the book because Rob serves on the CW Trails board. Fresh off his Bristoe Station book, A Want of Vigilance, Rob signed on.

“Who picked the title?” Rob asked me.

“The marketing department at Savas Beatie,” I told him. “We gave them several choices and that’s the one they picked.”

“You know it’s the title of the mobile phone tour we have for the Bristoe campaign, don’t you?”

“I . . . did not,” I admitted. During the fall of 1863, the armies moved northward along the Orange and Alexandria Rail Road before fighting at Bristoe. Today, drivers can now follow a seven-stop tour along that route and, at each location, call a number for a prerecorded message about the action that took place there.

“But the armies just moved in a northerly direction for Bristoe,” I added. “They didn’t go into the North.”

“What about Jubal Early in the summer of 1864?” Rob countered.

“He didn’t go north of the Mason-Dixon line.”

“The raid on Chambersburg?”

“That was just a raid, not his army. Gettysburg is the Army of Northern Virginia’s last road north. Robert E. Lee’s last road. The last major Confederate invasion.”

“Uh-huh,” Rob said and then let it rest there.

But several weeks later, as Rob and Dan measured the lengths of their four tour routes—167, 150, 215, and 100 or so, respectively—he broached the subject again. “You sure we can’t change the name of the book?” he asked. “How about ‘Long’ Road? That gets into the psychological experience of the thing.”

“You just measured out the tour routes and told people to drive 630 miles,” I said. “I don’t want them thinking, ‘Damn, that is a long road north’ and not follow the tours. That’s a psychological experience, too.”

“We wouldn’t expect them to do it in one day,” Rob reminded me. With 83 stops and, um, Gettysburg in the middle, it would be hard to do the whole book in a day, for sure. It’s the ultimate set of road trips for someone hardcore, though, which is what I love about it.

Just to be sure, I did ask the marketing folks at the publishing house about changing the title, but they told me it was too late. The Library of Congress had us in their files and Amazon was already offering the book. It would cost too much to change, and the LOC might send the Book Police or the Men in Black or something.

But the longer Rob and Dan worked on the book, the more frequently I started seeing references to the long road north in their e-mails.

Then, insidiously, subtly, awfully . . . I started thinking about it—stop it stop it stop it!—as the Long Road North, too.

“You guys have gotta cut it out!” I snapped one day. I had been doing edits on the book, sitting on the upstairs deck just off my bedroom, enjoying a warm spring afternoon. The clock was ticking. Deadline loomed. We wanted this out by the summer tourist season. Lots to do. And then another “long” email popped up and I went Yosemite Sam. “It’s last road. Last road. Not Long. Last! LAST!”

Dan, at his home in Ohio, fell into shocked silence. Rob, the diplomat told me, “Ease up, dude. We’re just joking! Now I’ve gotta explain to Dan why you’re a psychopath.”

Sorry. I need a Surgeon General’s label that says “Ball-busting and High Stress Do Not Mix Well in This Environment.” Paste it on my forehead.

Somehow, it the midst of all that, the pictures got collected. Hal Jespersen designed the maps. Designer Hannah Gordon laid out the book. The publisher printed it. UPS dropped off a box on my porch. Amazon started shipping. Bookstores started stocking them on the shelves.

Dan is now in Gettysburg for the summer working for the Park Service. He’s up to his Smokey the Bear hat in The Last Road.

“The opportunity to write about such a vast and expansive story such as the Gettysburg campaign was beyond a privilege and an honor,” Dan said. “To further connect people to that story and the hundreds of places that it played out 153 years ago was perhaps the most exciting part of working on the project.”

And Rob?

“Damn, that was a long road,” he said.

Needing a break from writing, Rob has vowed to take some time off. He’s fled to Kansas for some downtime among the prairie grasses.

Or so I thought.

“Tell me,” he asked the other day, “what would you think about the road to Antietam?”

“The First Road North?”

“We can call it anything but that.”

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