Shortly after Wittenberg and Petruzzi completed the manuscript for Plenty of Blame to Go Around, Savas Beatie LLC interviewed them about the book. Below are some excerpts from that interview.
How did you become interested in the topic of Jeb Stuart's ride to Pennsylvania during the Gettysburg Campaign?
Petruzzi: As a long-time Civil War cavalry buff, anything dealing with the mounted arm has captured my interest, especially anything of the Gettysburg Campaign. It's impossible to have a discussion regarding Gettysburg without mentioning the impact of Stuart's ride. Too often Stuart's ride is dismissed as "joyriding" which primarily contributed to Lee's loss at Gettysburg, and the sources Eric and I gathered over the years told us that there was much to the story that hadn't yet been explored.
Wittenberg: As a life-long student of the Gettysburg Campaign, I'd been hearing the debate over the propriety of the ride for most of my life, and I wanted to take a hard look at the events that triggered the controversy. Once we started to look at the tactics, we felt that the only way to really address the subject fully and completely was to tackle the controversy, too.
Where did you conduct your research, what sources did you use, and are any previously unpublished? How long have you researched this topic?
Petruzzi: We collected many of the sources together and separately over the past fifteen years or so. Eric and I have a neat little knack for uncovering the most obscure sources, the discovery of which is always a time for celebration. Sounds nerdy, I know - but it's the little things like that that excite us! We employ a full-time researcher, who digs things up for us on a constant basis, both on a project-oriented search and generally. Much of our own research is conducted at libraries, repositories, the National Archives and Library of Congress, and also the private collections of descendants and individuals. It's in these private collections that many of the participant letters we use originate. A perusal of the bibliography of this book reveals that many, many of these sources are previously unpublished and unused, which makes them all the more special and revealing.
Wittenberg: J.D.'s right. I've always been known for my use of obscure primary sources, and it's in these sources that we find things that help us to change the interpretation of these events.
What were the benefits of co-writing this book?
Petruzzi: Eric and I both will readily admit that neither of us could have done such a book separately - at least not in this much detail. But the greatest benefit was our ability to bounce ideas and theories off each other. Eric and I have discussed this topic many times over the years, and have crawled over every inch of the ground numerous times. It was just natural, then, that we only undertake such a project together. In addition, each of us had huge collections of unique sources and the book greatly benefits by the combination of them.
Wittenberg: Here's an example. Stuart's shelling of Carlisle has always been of great interest to me. I went to college in Carlisle (Dickinson College) and the College suffered damage that awful July 1, 1863 night. Consequently, I had spent years gathering material on this episode because it interested me. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it, but I had primary source material that no other account of these events had ever used. Doing the book the way we did it permitted me to use that material to develop the most detailed treatment of that night ever written.
Did anything surprise you during your research?
Petruzzi: One thing that surprised me was the amount of primary source material that exists that had never been used before. It may very well be because no one has undertaken this project (of such narrow scope) in such detail before - but I tend to think that no one has dug as deeply on this topic. As for specific surprises, there were two that stand out. The first involves the issue of whether Stuart actually made an effort to keep contact with Robert E. Lee and inform him of Joe Hooker's/George G. Meade's movements. The second was the discovery of an item that could have, but for fate intervening, completely changed the way the Battle of Hanover unfolded on June 30. I will resist the temptation to reveal the nature of these surprises here - the reader will have to read the book to discover what they are! Suffice it to say that each of these items turned out to be blockbusters regarding the larger questions involving Stuart's ride.
Wittenberg: Like J.D., I was surprised by a lot of the material that surfaced during our research. Period newspapers proved to be an absolute treasure trove of great material, and we were both surprised that nobody had ever made effective use of these sources before we did.
In the end, what do you think the reader will get out of this book?
Petruzzi: An appreciation for the tribulations of Stuart's ride for one, its overall place in the battle and campaign for another, and a full accounting of the historiography of it all. We fully appreciate the fact that many of our readers will go into this book with some die-hard opinions on the subject. We're not out to change them, or to convince anyone that any opinions are wrong. The title of the book, of course, hints at our conclusions, but it is meant to reveal that there is much to be considered - much more than has been considered to date. We may certainly change some readers' and students' opinions; we may also cause others to become more firmly convinced of their own. For those who previously had no opinion, or not enough information to form one, we certainly give them much to chew on. All of that is fine, and it will mean that we accomplished our goal - to tell the story of Stuart's "grand adventure" as fully as possible. After the Gettysburg Campaign, some of Stuart's comrades revered him even more, and others wanted him shot. We only hope that our work will evoke half that much passion in this subject, and if it does then it will mean we are satisfied indeed.
Wittenberg: If we cause just one person to reconsider his or her opinion in light of what we've done here, then we will have accomplished what we set out to do. Ultimately, we set out to challenge the reader, and we can only hope that we have managed to do so. Also, understanding the magnitude of Stuart's magnificent service during the retreat from Gettysburg depends on understanding the ordeal that he and his men faced on the way to Gettysburg; only when you understand that ordeal can you really appreciate the magnitude of what these men accomplished in the ten days after the end of the battle. Again, if just one reader comes away with a different understanding and appreciation of this, then we will have accomplished our goal.
© 2006 Savas Beatie LLC
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