The following article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Civil War News and appears with the kind permission of editor Jack Melton.
The caretaker’s cottage at the Stonewall Jackson Shrine sits behind a tall row of boxwood that obscures it from view. Visitors who come up the paved driveway circle past the hidden cottage as they follow the loop to the Shrine’s parking area. Before them sits the little white building where the Confederate general “crossed over the river” on May 10, 1863.
But it was at the nearby caretaker’s cottage, in the summer of 2011—some 148 years after Jackson died—that Emerging Civil War was born.
“There were three of us sitting on the porch, smoking cigars and ‘refighting the war,’” explains historian Kristopher D. White, co-founder of Emerging Civil War (ECW). “We started talking about ways we could share that kind of dialogue and those kinds of stories with larger audiences—something that would be livelier than the kinds of Civil War books people generally turned to.”
The conversation turned to blogging—a phenomenon then about six years old or so among Civil War enthusiasts. What White and colleagues Chris Mackowski and Jake Struhelka settled on, though, stood out from others in its approach: rather than a blog that featured the work of a single historian, they wanted to develop one that featured the work of an entire community of historians from both public history and academic backgrounds.
“We wanted to pay special attention to younger, newer people in the field—‘emerging’ voices,” says White, who now serves as the group’s chief historian. “We called it ‘Emerging Civil War’ to really emphasize the idea of those emerging voices and emerging ideas. That’s part of what makes what we we’re doing different.”
Five years later, http://www.emergingcivilwar.com features the work of twenty-five historians. Most are newer voices in the field but some well-established figures have signed on, too, such as cavalry expert Eric Wittenberg, Chickamauga Blog writer Dave Powell, and Atlanta-based historian Steven Davis. The line-up also includes several National Park Service historians, professors from half a dozen universities, and more than a dozen book authors.
“The idea is to have a whole bunch of different points of view and styles of writing from people with a wide variety of expertise,” explains Mackowski, who serves as ECW’s editor in chief. “That way, there’s a little something for everyone.”
The first blog post—ironic, considering ECW’s site of origin—discussed the death of Stonewall Jackson. Since then, emergingcivilwar.com has published 2,100 blog posts, attracting nearly 1.1 million views.
New content appears, free, nearly every day. “Usually more than once a day,” White says, “but because people write as they have time, we get things posted as we can.”
The site also accepts submissions from guest authors. “We have an internal editorial board that evaluates submissions, and we try to work with authors on their pieces if we can,” Mackowski says. “This is a way for us to develop those ‘new voices’—not just for the blog. It’s a way we’re able to make a contribution to the field.”
The blog has also served as a platform for writers who have wanted to develop their work before branching out to magazine articles, journal articles, and books. “We’ve also had people use their writing at the blog as a way to help get themselves into graduate school,” Mackowski says.
“Emerging Civil War’s writers have provided numerous feature-length pieces and done so eagerly, embracing the unique parameters of the publication—integrating land preservation into historical narrative,” she says. “It has been an honor to work with such thoughtful and diligent writers and researchers. In their hands, the future of Civil War history looks bright indeed!”
Dana Shoaf, editor of Civil War Times, has specifically lauded ECW’s efforts to help new writers. “It is giving people the chance to get started, to get themselves published on the blog, and giving new voices a place to express themselves,” he said during a 2015 symposium sponsored by ECW, “and I think that is really, really important, to see new historians coming up and new material being explored.”
The Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge—a historic property on the Spotsylvania Battlefield—is one of several ways ECW has expanded beyond the blogosphere during the last five years. This year’s event, scheduled for the first weekend in August, sold out a month and a half in advance.
ECW also sponsors a speakers bureau, highlighting the authors available to talk to roundtables, historical societies, and other groups. They recently began offering battlefield guiding services, as well.
ECW’s highest-profile expansion came in December 2012 with the publication of Simply Murder: The Battle of Fredericksburg in conjunction with the battle’s 150th anniversary. The volume was the first in the Emerging Civil War Series (ECWS), which has since expanded to twenty-two volumes as of the end of June 2016.
Published by Savas Beatie, LLC, the ECWS is designed to be reader-friendly, written on an introductory level with lots of pictures and original maps. “We call them our ‘gateway drugs’ to get people hooked on the Civil War,” White laughs. “When people visit a battlefield, and they’re looking for something to tell them a little more, something they can read in a couple hours and get a good overview—these are the books for them.”
Mackowski says the books reflect ECW’s primary mission. “We see the Civil War as America’s great story, and we want to connect as many people with that story as possible,” he explains.
In June 2016, the Army Historical Foundation (AHF) recognized the Emerging Civil War Series with its Lt. Gen. Richard G. Trefry Award. Given as part of the Army Historical Foundation’s annual Distinguished Writing Awards, the Trefry Award “is intended to honor books—or series of books in this case—that deserve special recognition for their contribution to the field.” The AHF called the ECWS “an invaluable collection of Civil War battlefield guides.”
In another cooperative venture with Savas Beatie, ECW has resurrected the old Civil War Regiments Series as a digital-only publication. “We’re looking to have the first issues ready for launch by our August symposium,” says White.
Earlier in 2016, ECW inked a deal with Southern Illinois University Press for a series of books aimed at more advanced Civil War enthusiasts. Called “Engaging the Civil War,” the series will combine ECW’s public history sensibility with the rigors of academic scholarship.
“Our first book in the series—Turning Points of the Civil War—is making its way through the pipeline now,” White says. “We have a book on the Civil War in Pop Culture, a full-length biography of Elmer Ellsworth, and a few other projects in development, too.”
ECW has also expanded its brand to include a blog devoted to the Revolutionary War, http://www.emergingrevolutionarywar.com, with a companion book series in development.
The group plans to add podcasting to its repertoire next.
“My wife laughs at me sometimes when I get to talking about all this,” White admits. “She says, ‘Not too bad for three idiots sitting on a porch.’”