The most valuable advice I got was from a group of historians I approached just as I went to press. I made a pilgrimage to Gettysburg to show a galley to William Frassanito, the father of photo-historiography. He graciously grilled me on some suppositions I made and helped me refine just how far I should go in declaring something a fact.
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Ted Alexander took me to dinner with James McPherson and they schooled me what to leave in, what to leave out and what to put in the back. I debated the tone of my photo captions with Gettysburg photo-historians Gary Adelman and Tim Smith, and although the three of us could not agree on much, I was able to fine-tune the captions with a point of view that I can now thoughtfully defend.
I noticed you did independent research on a photo originally thought to show President Lincoln at Gettysburg; your conclusion is that the photo was taken at Antietam. What other independent research did you do for the book?
I was able to show that the bodies in Antietam National Cemetery are not buried directly under their markers. I discovered in Hagerstown's city records that E.M. Recher went broke in 1877 and had to sell his house, studio, and everything in both. I brought to light Ezra Carman's photograph collection at the New Jersey Historical Society and John Mead Gould's "Kodaks" at Duke. I am probably most proud of having found and identified the only known photograph of the stone wall attacked by the Union army at the climax of the Battle of Antietam.
What sort of reader is this book aimed at?
It was my goal to write a serious study that hard-core historians would appreciate but that would also be enjoyed by the casual tourist. My hope is that people who read it realize that the battlefield is a lot more interesting than one might think on first blush. Walking around the field you can see traces of not only the battle but of the history of the battlefield itself in the decades after the battle.
I also hope it will draw attention to the many fascinating buildings in and around the Hagerstown Public Square. Hagerstown has an amazing history and a wealth of historic structures everywhere you look.
Did you secure an agent to help with publishing the book? How did you find a publisher? How did you develop the visual design?
I published the book myself. Another Software Miracle is a production and publishing company that I created for "Virtual Gettysburg." For "Rare Images of Antietam," I hired Dana Shoaf as editor. He edits the best Civil War magazine out there, Civil War Times, and he is an avid Antietam guy. We contracted his art director, Jennifer Vann, to art direct the book. I did the actual layout on the pages, but when we got together, Jennifer and Dana would mark up each page, adding or removing image borders, changing the style of the icons on the maps, etc. It is the two of them I have to thank for the book looking so professional and being so readable.
Are you working on another book project?
I am actually working on three projects. "Rare Images of Antietam Through the Eyes of O.T. Reilly" is the working title for the follow-up to my recent book. Reilly was a kid in Sharpsburg when the armies passed through and for the next 75 years he was the center of activity in his town. He wrote a column every week for 50 years chronicling every veteran, relic, photographer and tourist who came to the battlefield. I used a lot of it in my first book, but in my second I wish to pay a little more direct homage to the man who left such a treasure trove of research and just plain good stories.
I am also editing an unpublished manuscript written by Simon Whistler, the man who stands on top of the 130th Pennsylvania monument in the Bloody Lane. His family has asked me to publish a book Whistler wrote about his year with Gen. Ulysses Grant as a surgeon on a hospital transport. The book is like Forrest Gump meets Mark Twain. Great stuff.
And back in the 1880s, two brothers from Ohio went through West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania taking photographs of battlefields. They created an amazing travelogue that I would like to add a narrative to and make into a book.
Is your book available in bookstores in our area?
You can buy the book at Antietam National Battlefield bookstore and at the Hagerstown-Washington County Visitor Center on Public Square in downtown Hagerstown.
Online, I sell it at my website, www.virtualantietam.com, where I will send you a signed copy; I pay the tax and shipping. It is also available at Amazon.com and eBay.
— By Chris Copley, Lifestyle assistant editor