A Conversation with Dave Roth (part two)

Kris White and I had the opportunity to write features on Spotsylvania for two issues of Blue & Gray

(part two in a five-part series)

I’m talking this week with Dave Roth, editor and publisher of Blue & Gray Magazine and recipient of this year’s Emerging Civil War Award for Service in Public History. Yesterday, Dave explained how he, as an accountant, became a Civil War publishing guru, and he walked us through the process of putting an issue together. Today, he talks about the ways his magazine evolved in the years since it started 34 years ago.

DAVE: The magazine was far different back then, of course.

When we decided to do the magazine, we tried to make it for everybody. So aside from the main feature—we were always going to build it around a main feature, something we could feature that would involve touring the battlefields, because that’s what I was into—we were going to have things like living history and war gaming and relic hunting. We had a “Home Front” column for women, and we had a news section called “Camp Talk.” That was for people to get Civil War news.

As the battlefield tour feature got more popular, we started to drop those other departments. We couldn’t really get people to write for those departments. There are relic hunting magazines. There are war gaming magazines. It was hard to compete, so we decided, “Let’s find what we’re best at and do it.” The last thing to go was our news section, “Camp Talk.”

Then we evolved more when illustration software came about—because I have no art talent whatsoever. So when the illustration software came out, that’s when we got into doing the maps. I love doing map work. I was partial to Adobe Freehand and used it exclusively.

CHRIS: Your maps have become standards. Everyone looks at the Blue & Gray maps as the go-to maps for battles.

DAVE: I love hearing that. Thank you. And I love doing them. Even when I was with the accounting firm, what I liked to do was stay up late at night reading accounts on battles and plotting them out on a map. And looking for, “Oh, geez, what if Jackson had moved up there eight hours sooner? He might’ve been able to cut off so-and-so, and that might’ve changed the course of the battle.” So that just became a fascination with me.

So, that’s how the maps evolved. And of course, a map is like a picture. It’s worth ten thousand words.

CHRIS: Who are some of the cool people you’ve been able to meet in your adventures?

Kris White, posed for his appearance in Blue & Gray by standing next to some reconstructed earthworks at Spotsy. (photo by Dave Roth)

DAVE: Of course, Chris Mackowski and Kris White. (laughs) Those are cool people. And Rob Orrison and Bill Backus. Dan Davis. All cool people—every darn one of them.

One of the coolest people was an interview in our very first issue, and that was James Longstreet’s daughter-in-law, Zelia Longstreet. I happened upon her because I happened to be going through Gainesville, Georgia, and wondered if there were any Longstreets living there. So I went to a phone booth—this was a long time ago—and there was a Longstreet: “Zelia Longstreet.”

So we went and knocked on her door—I was with one of my friends from the accounting firm—and we introduced ourselves. It was the house she had lived in with Longstreet’s youngest son, Fitz Longstreet. She slept in the bed that Longstreet died in—that was in their house. And she knew, personally, Helen Longstreet [Longstreet’s widow].

This woman had really cool stories to tell. She was interviewed in our premiere issue, and I thought we really hit one out of the park with that.

Other cool people: Working with people like Wiley Sword, Albert Castel, Jim Murfin, and Don Alberts, who are all deceased now. I really enjoyed working with those guys, particularly Wiley Sword. He was a good friend and confidant. [For years, Blue & Gray featured a section titled “Wiley Sword’s War Letters” that published primary sources from Sword’s personal collection.]

Then I had a conversation with Michael Shaara. Remember, his book—The Killer Angels—that’s what really hooked me? I really wanted him to write in my pages so bad I was willing to do anything. So I managed to get his phone number, I called him, I talked to him for a good while, but I just couldn’t convince him to write Day Two at Gettysburg for me. He said he’d have to go back and start re-reading sources again, and he just thought that would suck him back into it and he wouldn’t be able to get out.

Talking to Shelby Foote on the phone about Spring Hill—that was pretty cool. I called him up. That was before the Ken Burns series, and he was in the book. I just called information in Memphis, and a few seconds later, I was talking to him on the phone.

Another cool person: talking with Martin Sheen, who was playing General Lee in the movie Gettysburg. It was after a few beers at the Cashtown Inn. That’s where we were staying. He didn’t want to talk much about the Civil War because I don’t think he knew much, so instead I started telling him my favorite lines from Apocalypse Now, and he didn’t remember saying them. For some reason, it started to piss me off! He’s looking at me like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The next day when they were filming the movie, they had me standing behind trees and stuff; they didn’t want people out moving around. In fact, when they were filming troops coming down Cashtown Pike—you know, they shot that right at the Cashtown Inn. They put dirt down. It looked like it probably did back there in 1863—and they said, “Everyone needs to stay out of the windows.” And so I’m standing back behind a tree. And the troops are coming down, Robert E. Lee is coming down. Martin Sheen is leading the group down Cashtown Pike. And all of a sudden they start yelling and blowing whistles and telling everyone, “Stop, stop, stop.” Because there was movement in one of the windows. It was one of my young daughters. (laughs)

So, because of my 5-year-old daughter, they had to take everybody and march them back up the hill and then come back down and shoot that scene again.

Martin Sheen spotted me then and rode over and posed for me with his best Robert E. Lee. That was a photo, with others, we put in our Nashville issue that came out about the time of the movie premiere. I kind of forgave him for not remembering his lines from Apocalypse Now. (laughs) We also got to talk with Sam Elliot, who was playing John Buford. He was also staying at the Cashtown.

And here’s a cool story for you: You know, Ed Bearss has done stuff for us. He did Brice’s Crossroads for us. Now, I think Ed is one of the coolest people in the world. What he would do is, he couldn’t type, so he dictated his manuscript into a tape recorder, and then he would send that in. I would give that to my attorney who would give it to his secretaries—you know, those legal secretaries, they can just fly through stuff. They could type that stuff real fast. But there were words in there—generally names and places—they had no idea what he said with inflections and his manner of delivery, you know, when Ed talks. They had to ask Jamie, “Look up in your history books to see what he’s trying to say here.” [Jamie Ryan is Dave’s attorney and a Civil War guy himself.]

And they said there were times when Ed would get interrupted because his wife would say it was time to eat lunch, so Ed’s deciding and having a discussion with his wife about what they’re going to have for lunch, and then the phone might ring, and the girls are listening, trying to type this manuscript, and he’s having a conversation with someone about Gettysburg for 20 minutes on the phone. (laughs)

I called Jamie a little bit ago and said I was going to tell that story to you about Ed. He said, “Wait a minute, I’ll ask the girls.” That was years ago, but they filled him in. They remembered typing Ed’s manuscript like it was yesterday, they said.

————-

Not only has Dave been able to work with some cool people during his tenure at Blue & Gray, he’s also been to some cool places. When our conversation with Dave continues tomorrow, he’ll share some of those cool adventures.

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One Response to A Conversation with Dave Roth (part two)

  1. ncatty says:

    Thank you Dave Roth for publishing Blue & Gray. I was an early subscriber and have kept every issue. Best wishes in your future endeavors.

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