Derek Maxfield


Derek Maxfield is an associate professor of history at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York. In 2019 he was honored with the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and in 2013 he was awarded the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities. His research interests include Victorian death ways and 19th century politics and culture. Maxfield has written for Emerging Civil War since 2015.

Maxfield lives near Rochester, NY, with his wife Jess, four cats, a basset hound, a tortoise, and a python. He hopes to soon acquire a Bengal tiger cub (subject to his wife’s approval).

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Derek is also a member of the Emerging Civil War Speakers Bureau. His available presentations are listed below:

SHERMAN: Man or Monster
By turns, William T. Sherman he has been called a savior and a barbarian, a hero and a villain, a genius and a madman. But whatever you call him, you must admit he is utterly fascinating.
Sherman spent a lifetime in search of who he was, striving to find a place and a calling. Hounded by his family to leave the military, Sherman tried banking and practicing law. Finally, he became superintendent of a new military academy in Louisiana and thought he had found his place – until civil war intervened.
But after leading his troops at the battle of Bull Run, the anxious brigadier general was sent West to Kentucky. Apprehensive over the situation in the Blue Grass State, suffering from stress, insomnia and anxiety Sherman begged to be relieved. Sent home to recover, the newspapers announced he was insane. Colleagues concluded he was “gone in the head.”
Instead, like a phoenix, he rose from the ashes to become a hero of the republic. Forging an identity in the fire of war, the unconventional general kindled a friendship with Ulysses S. Grant and proved to everyone at Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Georgia, and in the Carolinas that while he was unorthodox, he was also brilliant and creative. More than that, he was eminently successful and played an important role in Union victory.
This talk is based on Maxfield’s book Man on Fire: William Tecumseh Sherman in the Civil War and tells the story of a man who found himself in war – and that, in turn, secured him a place in history. Condemned for his barbarousness or hailed for his heroics, the life of this peculiar general is nonetheless compelling – and thoroughly American.

Marching through the Heart of the Confederacy: Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea
Undertaken in the summer of 1864, Sherman’s drive on Atlanta and subsequent march to Savannah tore the heart out of the Confederacy. Atlanta was a major manufacturing center and railroad hub that was utterly destroyed by Sherman’s army. The march across Georgia was designed as psychological warfare as much as military. By the time Sherman reached Atlanta, the Confederate will to fight was swiftly diminishing.

A Deadly Puzzle: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign
Ulysses S. Grant knew what he wanted; he just was not sure how to get it. He was thwarted approaching Vicksburg overland from Tennessee; he could not bypass or get around it. No matter how he tried to get at the Gibraltar of the West the weather, the Mississippi River, the topography of the land, or the rebels themselves worked against him. It was a grand and deadly puzzle that Grant would ultimately solve through perseverance and tenacity.

We’ll Lick ’em Tomorrow: Grant, Sherman, and the Battle of Shiloh
One of the interesting storylines of the war was the friendship of Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman – men who were nearly opposites. Reserved and pragmatic, Grant was a simple, practical guy. Sherman was high strung, exuberant, and intellectual. Their friendship was sealed in the fiery contest of the Tennessee River near a place called Pittsburgh Landing.

Hellmira: The Union’s Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp – Elmira, NY
Long called by some the “Andersonville of the North,” the prisoner of war camp in Elmira, New York, is remembered as the most notorious of all Union-run POW camps. It existed for only a year – from the summer of 1864 to July 1865 – but in that time, and for long after, it became darkly emblematic of man’s inhumanity to man. Confederate prisoners called it “Hellmira.” Based on his book by this title, Maxfield explores the failed exchange of prisoners, and tells the tale of the creation and evolution of the prison camp in Elmira. In the end, Maxfield suggests that it is time to move on from the blame game and see prisoner of war camps – North and South – as a great humanitarian failure.

Lincoln: Constitutional Pragmatist
This talk explores our nation’s relationship with Abraham Lincoln and his association with the Constitution. A deeper understanding of Lincoln may surprise some people, and even tarnish his popular image for others. To some extent this is because we tend to think of Lincoln more as a statesman and hero, rather than a politician. The truth, however, is that Lincoln was a very talented politician and could be just as smooth yet slippery as the best and most manipulative of civic leaders. Lincoln’s relationship with the Constitution was shaped by both Lincoln the statesman and Lincoln the politician – depending upon circumstances.

Ancestors in Peace and in Pieces
In this talk, I explore the stories of my six great-grandfathers who fought in the Civil War – all for the Union. Of the six, four survived and two perished. Although the survivors might be the “lucky ones,” as we’ll see they all came home broken men both in body and spirit.

Also Available, the Theatrical Production
A two-person show featuring Derek and Jess Maxfield
Set in late March 1865, Grant on the Eve of Victory is a one-act play that features a conversation between Lt. General U.S. Grant and war correspondent George Alfred Townsend of the New York World. This late-night informal interview features Grant’s recollections about Maj. General William Tecumseh Sherman, the Battle of Shiloh, surrender of Vicksburg and his thoughts about Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Written and directed by Derek Maxfield, who also plays Grant, the play features Jess Maxfield, who portrays Townsend.
This traveling show is available in one act and runs about one hour with Q&A.

“The actors made the audience members feel as if they had stepped back in time to witness a historic event.”
– Sue Erdle, Supervisor, Town of West Sparta, NY

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Derek D. Maxfield, Man of Fire: William Tecumseh Sherman in the Civil War (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2022).

Derek D. Maxfield, Hellmira: The Union’s Most Infamous Civil War Prison Camp – Elmira, NY. (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2020).

“Jackson’s Foreign Policy.” Andrew Jackson. Richard E. Ellis, ed.. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2003.

“John Adams, Republican Revolutionary.” Parnassus 7 (1997): 76-91.