Archive for May, 2014

I Killed Off Joe Johnston
May 10, 2014

I distinctly remember the day I killed off General Joseph E. Johnston. During the preparation of Confederate Invention for publication, I had received edits from the copyeditor to review. Now a copyeditor makes sure you use the words like “affect” and “effect” correctly, that you capitalize the correct words, that you use “that” and “which” properly, and that you use good grammar in general. The author’s job is to review the edits to make sure they make sense.

Now, as I reviewed Chapter 11, which discusses the events for the year 1862, I realized I had made a bad mistake. At the start of the chapter, I  summarized the various battles that occurred during the year to set the stage for the discussion of the Patent Office.  During 1862, Robert E. Lee took over Johnston’s command after Johnston was wounded during the Battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks). As I read this in the copyedits, my mind quickly realized this was wrong… Johnston had been killed… I remembered he was one of the first important Southern generals to die in the war. So I changed the manuscript, and “killed-off” old “Fightin’ Joe” in 1862.

Now, Joe Johnston was severely wounded in his right shoulder and chest by an artillery shell during  that battle, which led to Jefferson Davis to turn over command of the Army of Northern Virginia to Robert E. Lee. But he was not killed. I was thinking of General Albert Sidney Johnston, who bled to death from a wound during the Battle of Shiloh. To my credit, that was in 1862, but that is little consolation to killing off the wrong guy! My eagerness to make sure I corrected the passage lead me to make the change from memory rather than to doublecheck the facts. I mean,seriously, I even wrote about Joe Johnston’s efforts, later in the war, in a later chapter in the book! 

The first I heard of my mistake was in a conversation with a friend after the book published, who pointed out my error. Later, I would read a book review by a Confederate scholar who pointed out the error, but in he was very kind with his criticism.

I certainly learned my lesson, and in subsequent printings I will make sure Joe Johnston survives 1862. Meanwhile, I will be cautious about changing facts during the copyediting stage for any new book I work on, at least I won’t change any facts based on my memory! And maybe old Joe will eventually forgive me.