A Conversation with Dave Roth (part five)

Roth Award plaque(The final part of a five-part series)

“I have a couple more favorite issues I can share if you’d like,” Dave Roth said when I wrapped up yesterday’s segment of my interview with the editor and publisher of Blue & Gray Magazine. Dave, the recipient of this year’s Emerging Civil War Award for Service in Civil War Public History, is discontinuing the print magazine after 34 years and 198 issues. Fortunately, he’ll be continuing his website.

We pick up right where we left off, when he offered to share a few more of his favorite issues with us. 

DAVE ROTH: Right at the beginning of the Sesquicentennial, this great guy, Hank Elliot, did First Manassas. [Hank is a historian at Manassas National Battlefield.]

That was a tremendous issue. I rate that one very high. Because by the time we were done doing the maps, I think we had the whole visitor center—everybody there—tweaking this and tweaking that, and “You’ve gotta get that company positioned right.” You know, you get companies that get separated, and you’ve got the main body somewhere else—that’s how detailed it became. And the way those maps came together and how it became a group effort—I just enjoyed the way that came out.

And do you know who knows this more than anybody? Hank. Every time I talk to him, I tell him about it. That was great. He’s also a Yankees fan—baseball—like me.

Have you been to Port Hudson?

CHRIS MACKOWSKI: No, I’ve never been able to get there.

DAVE: I love Port Hudson. It’s a fascinating place.

I don’t know what the reason is—someone told me the state of Louisiana doesn’t like people handling money—but if you go into the visitor center, they hand you free packs of Harper’s Weekly blow-ups and other battle-related material, but that Port Hudson issue, which I was so proud of, they don’t even sell at the park. The issue contains maps that I believe are the only maps ever done of some of the Port Hudson action. I worked with the historian at the park on them. But they just will not carry it at the bookstore. They’ve never been sold at the park. To me, that’s crazy.

[I hear him shuffling the notes he prepared in advance of our interview.]

Do you know Jim Jobe at Fort Donelson? He’s retired now. For the Sesquicentennial, we did Forts Henry and Donelson—I thought that was a great issue we put together. And it actually has a picture of John Wayne’s grandfather—he was in the 83rd Illinois and was left for dead in ’64 in that area during all that bushwhackery that went on there. So we had John Wayne’s grandfather in uniform in that issue.

Another one from the Sesquicentennial I liked: “The Battle of Franklin” by Eric Jacobson. Have you ever been to Franklin?

CHRIS: I have.

DAVE: Eric has done fantastic work putting Franklin back on the battlefield touring map. He’s the guy who pretty much single-handedly got the new visitor center built.

Redoing Franklin—that was a perfect example. We have gone back and revisited places we’ve done before. I did Franklin way back in the 80s, and when I did Franklin before, there just weren’t a lot of sites. What Eric has been able to do there is amazing. The Pizza Hut—that’s no longer there. The Pizza Hut near where Pat Cleburne was killed, that’s gone. They’ve moved some houses out of the area where the Carter cotton gin was located. Eric handled that. Eric deserves a lot of recognition.

Another one that’s high on my list is one we did recently with two of your guys, Orrison and Backus: the Potomac blockade. I bought a bunch of books related to the topic after that issue—I spent fifty bucks on the Gideon Welles diary—because I got so fascinated with those 1861 events. I have gone to that area so many times and never knew all that happened there.

My good friend Bob O’Neill, he lives down in the Fredericksburg area, he said after that issue came out—he takes the train up to D.C. to go to the Archives, and he never used to pay attention to any of the scenery on the way up—he said he had no idea he was going right through the area where those forts are, where those batteries were located. Now he says when he goes up there he gets distracted because he’s looking out the windows knowing the Blockade sites are out there.

When Rob Orrison pitched that topic to me, I said, “What do you have there? Enough to make a General’s Tour feature?” He says, “You’ll see.”

The pictures we got there, and the river guide, Rob and Bill’s buddy who took us out in his boat so I could photograph Potomac blockade sites from the water—that was an excellent experience. That’s one of my favorites.

CHRIS: Rob had a great time doing that issue. He took me up there just a couple weeks after he took you up there, and I was just amazed at the works they have up there.

DAVE: Yeah. And Rob’s a good guy to be in charge of that, too. I like how he works.

CHRIS: So, now that you’re ceasing publication of Blue & Gray, what are you going to do to keep yourself out of trouble?

B&G WildernessDAVE: Well, I’ve got a great wife, Karen. [Dave’s wife Robin, with whom he founded B&G in 1983, passed away from pancreatic cancer in July 1998. Dave married Karen in 2003.] I also have three wonderful grown kids, and I have five terrific grandchildren. They’ll keep me busy.

And we are keeping the website going. [Dave is currently working on ameliorating unfulfilled subscriptions, and Blue & Gray is offering digital downloads that subscribers can get as PDFs. One of them, about the battle of the Wilderness, which Kris White and I co-authored, is now available. Non-subscribers can download it for a fee.]

CHRIS: Looking back at your complete body of work over 34 years, is there anything in particular you are most proud of?

DAVE: I’m proud when I can put something out there and someone says, “I didn’t know that. I’ve been in this hobby for years, and I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that was there. I didn’t know what was there to see.”

There is a guy who is an invalid, and he says he has lived the Civil War through Blue & Gray because we took him to all those battlefields he could never go to. That brings a lump in your throat. That’s what I’m proud of.

9 Responses to A Conversation with Dave Roth (part five)

  1. A great interview. B&G ceasing publication was a real blow to this field because it was so unique. It’s good to know that Dave plans to keep the website. My one regret is that with all of the issues I’ve got there’s nothing (IIRC) on the Seven Days. I had emailed Dave this past Spring about doing something in light of the major success at Glendale by the CWT but it wasn’t long after that when he made the decision. I did get the Wilderness download and – not surprisingly – it’s very good.

      1. Well, (and as you well know) I might point out that those who are obsessed with a certain campaign that took place a little to the east of there during April-July, 1862 can hold their own.

  2. He can keep the remainder of my subscription to defray his costs. I only hope each and every issue is kept available in the digital realm for future generations.

  3. As someone who suffered a permanent physical disability overseas at nearly 30 and planned on returning to retire from military life and travel America’s Civil War Parks after I recieved my papers I did alot of physical therapy but I also did alot of “poor me, now i’ll never walk Antietam, Chickamauga, or even Gettysburg”…About that time the pity party was in full bloom and a older, wiser Alpha from my company walked in with a stack of B&G with everyone from Chris&Kris Spotsylvania to Fredricksburg to Bristoe…”Stop feeling sorry for yourself and there yours”…And even though i’m on canes now thanks to Dave Roth thats how I was able to “visit” the beautiful CW Parks. And for that I thank you Dave, forever and always.

  4. Just now seeing this 5 part interview. I love the Port Hudson issue. There is a neat driving tour outside of the boundaries of the Port Hudson State Historic Site that you won’t find anywhere except in the B&G issue.

  5. Hello. I am just discovering this interview. I want to thank you for mentioning my father, Jim Murfin (author of “The Gleam of Bayonets”) as one of the cool people you met on your adventure. It is nice to see Dad remembered this way after all this time (this Saturday marks 32 years since his passing). Thank you.

  6. I refer to it not as the best civil war magazine of all-time but simply the BEST magazine period. In fact, the only magazine you don’t want to part with. Never ages. Thank you Dave !

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