SLR Contributor Philip K. Jason was honored to interview military historian, West Point alum, and Vietnam veteran, Tom Carhart regarding his latest release, Sacred Ties: From West Point Brothers to Battlefield Rivals: A True Story of the Civil War. This factual account of six West Point soldiers fascinated us so much, we selected it as our October Read of the Month.
What motivated you to choose this West Point angle for a new look at major Civil War battles?
I graduated from West Point myself in 1966, and the dissertation I later wrote for my Ph.D. was a narrative history of African American West Pointers during the 19th Century. While doing the research required for that, I discovered some truly fascinating stories about West Pointers during the Civil War, stories that I later realized I might use to look at why and how we fought that war, then how we came together as a nation in its wake. This book is that set of stories, intended as an unusual metaphor for the Civil War.
How did you go about discovering the military and personal correspondence that you used to help portray the West Point graduates?
The major sources I used for the material I develop in Sacred Ties were the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies as well as the Library and the Archives of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. I also found useful materials in a half dozen university, college, and institutional libraries, in the Military History collection at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, PA, and, having been employed there during the 1990s, in the U.S. Army Center for Military History in Washington D.C.
For which of the six West Pointers did your investigation provide the most surprises?
I would have to say that the most surprises for me were found when I investigated the Civil War fought in the Shenandoah Valley: the sheer audacity and resulting splendid successes won by General Thomas Lafayette Rosser as a Confederate division commander, and the smaller scale but no less thrilling battlefield prowess displayed by Captain Henry Algernon DuPont as a Union Army commander of artillery units.
Look for more from SLR’s interview with Tom Carhart in tomorrow’s post.