Emerging Civil War is celebrating our tenth anniversary this year (it’s our party and we can make it last a year if we want to!). We had a great birthday celebration in August at the Symposium. With the super support of Ted Savas, we launched the ECW 10th Anniversary Book Series (more on that soon, BTW). And now, we want to spend some time highlighting one of ECW’s crown jewels: the Emerging Civil War Series.
Each evening, we’ll highlight one of the books from the ECW Series, beginning with our first book and running through in the order in which they were published. We’ll also toss in a few surprises along the way.
As I was sitting down to write this introduction to the upcoming series, I came across a comment from John Fowler in a review he wrote about Dwight Hughes’s ECWS book Unlike Anything That Ever Floated in the November 2021 issue of Civil War News. “[W]hile the book tells a familiar story, Hughes manages to tell it with flair while providing the reader with a guide to discover even more of the story,” Fowler said. “Moreover, given that the military history of the war is disappearing from traditional academic study of the conflict, books such as this are increasingly valuable as introductions to important subjects.”
I thought Fowler’s observation got it right, but there’s a little more to it, too. To the folks who read Civil War News, the battle of Hampton Roads that Dwight tells is no doubt “a familiar story.” But for a lot of people, it’s NOT a familiar story.
Co-founder Kris White and I found this out for ourselves years ago while working at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Every day, we had first-time visitors to the battlefields. Those folks would come back from a tour or from a walkabout in the museum and ask, “Is there a short book I could pick up so I can read a little bit more about this?” And unfortunately, the answer was “No.” The bookstores’ shelves were filled with lots of great books, but they were all 300+ pages. There weren’t books someone could pick up and breeze through in a couple hours to get a good overview of things.
We created the Emerging Civil War Series to fill that void. We focused on providing reader-friendly, intro-level stories with lots of pictures and good maps. Kris, whose super power is an encyclopedic memory, ensured factual accuracy and a high standard for research and interpretation. I really pushed the idea of well-written narratives. I’m a writing professor by trade, so good writing was especially important to me.
We also included tour sections, or as Kris and I called them, “interp sections.” Someone coming to the battlefield could carry our books around and get a pretty good tour to match up with the book’s main narrative. Conversely, someone reading in their recliner at home could follow along and get a clear idea of what there was to see at each key spot on the battlefield. The tours are always grounded in each author’s personal knowledge of the battlefields. We’ve all walked the grounds we write about—one of the biggest advantages of having a public rather than an academic historian write about a battlefield.
We avoided endnotes because endnotes are a turn-off to casual readers like the ones we were targeting. Ted Savas gave us a page count based on a price point, and it was up to us to decide how to best fill those pages. We decided to devote that space to telling as many stories as we could. We have paid a lot of attention over the years to developing interesting appendices that augment the main narratives—I’m especially pleased with that particular feature of our books.
Our joke was that ECW books were “gateway drugs” for Civil War beginners: get them hooked with our reader-friendly paperbacks and then point them in the direction of harder stuff—those 300-page campaign studies and microtactical tomes and in-depth biographies. We made sure each of our books had “suggested readings” in the back so we could send people on to books we, ourselves, enjoyed and learned from.
But a funny thing started to happen. Our books, aimed at those casual battlefield visitors, began to grow a strong following among Civil War buffs. “I’ve heard plenty of knowledgeable readers who profess to like your books as a quick introduction to a place they want to visit or know little about,” historian Will Greene told me recently. Those are the people John Fowler referred to, who know the story of the Monitor and the Virginia, or the battle of Fredericksburg, or the Wheatfield at Gettysburg. They know the battles and battlefields but enjoy revisiting the stories in well-told ways.
With that new audience came new challenges. Book reviewers started beating us up for not having endnotes, for instance. I pushed back against that for a while because the books weren’t originally designed for people who gave a rat’s butt about citations. We finally compromised by uploading citations to a page on our blog, with a link at the end of a book’s table of contents that told people how to find them. Anyone who really wanted endnotes could easily go to the blog and download them. That seemed like a natural way for us to take advantage of ECW’s digital platform. We get some people who still complain that the citations aren’t in the books themselves, but those’re folks who are just lazy, plain and simple. The notes are available for anyone who wants them.
We’ve had other bumps along the way, too. We had to develop more stringent proofreading protocols, for example. We had to adjust our photo preparations to increase the quality of our printed images. For a stretch, we seemed to go through more designers than Hogwarts went through Defense of the Dark Arts teachers. (That’s a Harry Potter reference. If you don’t get it, then perhaps: “we seemed to go through more designers than the band Spinal Tap went through drummers.” Better?)
All along, Ted Savas has given us an incredible degree of creative control over the content and the layout. Ted handles printing, marketing, and distribution. It’s a dream for authors to have the kind of creative freedom Ted has given us, which we’re really grateful for.
Along the way, we have helped thirty different authors get books into print, including twelve first-time authors. If you count the number of people who’ve written appendices for the books, that number of first-time writers swells into the dozens. We’ve helped a lot of writers “emerge,” and we’re super proud of that.
Kris and I knew we’d have to carry the water for the first couple books as we recruited other people to write, so the start of the series is heavy on “Mackowski/White,” but over the course of time, other voices started to emerge. We both now do more editing than writing of our own, which is as we hoped. Look for a lot of voices to show up as the book (and blog) series progresses.
Over the course of this series—which we’re calling The “Emerging Civil War Series” Series—we’ll let each author tell his or her own story. Hopefully you’ll have as much fun reading about some of the behind-the-scenes adventures of the ECW Series as we’ve had putting the books together.
Before we get this part of the party rolling, let me offer a few shout-outs:
- to co-founder Kris White, who initially pitched this series to Savas Beatie;
- to Ted Savas for enthusiastically saying “yes” and then giving us a long, long leash to roam; to Sarah Keeney, the poor soul at Savas Beatie tasked with herding the ECW cats;
- to the whole crew at Savas Beatie who, for the past ten years, has supported out work;
- to Hal Jespersen, for setting a high bar with his excellent maps, which became another distinctive component of our branding;
- to Daniel T. Davis and Chris Kolakowski, who’ve each taken a turn at the helm as ECW’s chief historian, overseeing the series’s historical quality control;
- to John Hennessy, who gave Kris and I our first break (more on that later in the series);
- to John Cummings, who helped finance that first break (again, more on that later);
- and to all the fantastic authors we’ve been privileged to work with over the years.
Join us tomorrow as we rush our first book to press just in time for the battle’s Sesquicentennial anniversary….