I’m happy to welcome Mike Bunn and Clay Williams to Battlefield Biker to talk about their new book titled, The Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812. It is published by The History Press. You can see my review of the book here.
Battlefield Biker (BB) – Why did you write this book about the Creek War?
Clay Williams (CW) – Mike and I have a love for this time period in Gulf South History. We had previously worked together at the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History and had done lots of research on the Mississippi Territorial Period (1798-1817), which included the Creek War and the War of 1812, for a future exhibit. Mike eventually left to take another job in Georgia and the exhibit never took place due to Hurricane Katrina closing the Old Capitol. Mike and I have stayed in touch over the years and wanted to do a large project again together and the Creek War and its related Gulf Coast campaigns of the War of 1812 looked like a perfect fit. We had already done some research, and it is a topic that is basically unknown to many. Mike and I love to visit historic sites and so visiting and documenting these areas where these key events took place would be a key portion of our book and we so we decided to take the project on.
Mike Bunn (MB) – We certainly didn’t set out to write a book at first, though. It’s a project that just grew once we got into it and realized the possibilities and discovered how much info we had to share.
BB – Will you tell us a little about the format of the book ( I love it). i.e. timeline, biographies, geographic points of interest, some original documents and the essay. How did you work out what you wanted to do with the book?
CW – Mike and I initially referred to the book as a sourcebook-a one-stop shop for gathering information on the conflict. We knew it was not going to be a long narrative and didn’t want it to be one. We targeted it for the general public and wanted it to be easily accessible and this was what we came up with. Again, Mike and I have stated this was not to be a new definitive study of the conflict, but a book that hopefully introduced the topic to the many that have no idea about it and that its format would make it easy to peruse and enjoy without getting bogged down with long narratives and too many footnotes. There were components that we wanted in it that we thought be helpful, a time line, a great bibliographical essay, original documents, as well as site locations. Again, I will say the book grew out of the idea to visit these sites, many marked and many unmarked, and document them for the public-the whole historic preservation and interpretation idea.
BB – How did you work as a team? Did you split duties?
CW – Yes, we split duties. By splitting the wars into 4 campaigns, meant we were both responsible for two-that meant doing research, locating historic sites, writing the narrative text as well as the text for the historic sites and the bios for those participants in our respective campaigns, locating graphics, etc. We also split the various other portions as well such as Mike wrote the Origins of War and I wrote the Conclusion. Each of us would write a first draft, then submit to the other for editing and suggestions. Mike and I work very well together in that regard. We don’t have large egos and we can each tell the other that something he wrote was garbage. It was a great pleasure to work with Mike. We both have such a love for the study history and are eager to do projects of this nature.
MB – We started working like that when we worked together at the Old Capitol. We have written so much together that it was easy to critique each other’s writing. Editing can be a touchy process for many, but fortunately not for us. We didn’t edit so much as fine tune what we knew we were each trying to say. We were truly on the same page and as I look back on the work, I don’t think readers will be able to tell which section was written by who; it comes off as one voice.
BB – The bibliographic essay was great. Who inspires you in this field? i.e. clear source display.
MB – Their are a lot of authors we like and we both have ridiculous personal libraries. As far as this topic specifically, though, I’d have to say that Robert Remini, Frank Owsley, Jr., and Henry S. Halbert and T.H. Ball stand as the foremost inspirations. Remini is a master storyteller, Owsley wrote what we consider to be the definitive study of the conflicts we cover and was the only one to rely exclusively on primary sources, while Halbert and Ball produced one of the first serious studies of the wars. The fact that they co-authored their work made them an especially significant inspiration for us.
CW – Not sure I have an answer for that. I know Mike and I both enjoy books that are well documented and have great bibliographies so we can find other books, articles etc. that touch on a topic we like and can search ourselves. I know our wives would agree that we both spend waaaay too much money purchasing books.
Editor’s note… Don’t ever let the Mrs. Bunn, Mrs. Williams and the Battlefield Bikette meet in the same room. The pressure to eBay the libraries may get too strong.
BB – What role did technology play in the writing of the book? i.e. online research, collaboration software, Skype, IM, etc?
CW – Not too much-Some small online research, but mostly through books and articles. E-mail is a wonderful thing-cheap for Mike and I to contact each other as well as for us to contact historians located across our theater of war. Mike and I met many local historians who had done great research on their particular area and we were able to combine alot of their research into this book.
MB – As Clay says, this was not a tech-heavy project. We of course have the website and relied on a digital camera and photoshop, but email was about as advanced as most of it got.
BB – Other than Andrew Jackson, which historical figure(s) jumped out at you and made you wish you had more space for biographical detail?
MB – William Weatherford was a complex individual. He was as white as Creek, yet became one of the foremost Redstick leaders. During the war he was a fearless and intelligent leader. After the war, he returned to life as a planter in south Alabama and was apparently an accepted member of the community. He must have been fascinating.
CW – Agreed. William Weatherford is a great figure-We wish there was more information out there on him.
BB – In your opinion, how much of the Creek Indian war strategy, tactics and supply were informed or provided by the British directly?
CW – Hmmm, another good question…..I will say not much. Of course, the Creek War had basically ended before the British could become directly involved. However, please be aware that many of the Creek leaders, such as Weatherford, had as much European ancestry as they had Creek ancestry, so many had read or were familiar with “white tactics” of war.
MB – Yes, this was a war planned and fought by the Redsticks. Everything might have been different had the British managed to get involved earlier, but that is just conjecture.
BB – What was your favourite map of the book and/or research?
MB – For me, it was learning about Floyd’s campaign with the GA militia. Two of the largest battles of the war were fought by troops under his command, but they remain among the most unknown battles of the war. There are no markers commemorating either of them, sadly. As far as maps, I am proud that we were able to create a series of them that detailed the battles of each campaign fairly accurately. So many of the ones we have seen are wildly inaccurate.
CW – Another tough question…..I enjoyed so much of the research. The War of 1812 sections concerning Mobile, Pensacola and Lake Borgne were so fascinating to me. Many have heard of Jackson’s win at New Orleans, but the events leading up to it are really unknown and I liked delving into it. The contemporary maps created by Latour were awesome and I really liked all the maps we have created to help others understand the conflict. Maps are so essential when reading any type of military history. Nothing is worse than reading a detailed account of a battle or campaign and not having a reference map to chart the movements of armies.
BB – What use was GPS and geo tagging in your research?
CW – Not much, Our favorite map was produced by Delorme. They were awesome and got us out of many fixes.
MB – Yeah, topo maps got us back to civilization a few times when we thought we’d never see another paved road!
Editor’s note; Delorme is a Battlefield Biker favourite as well. See Battlefield Biker’s Ride Recommendations for specific Delorme maps for battlefield touring.
BB – What support did your employer’s give to the book?
CW – I did work on the book independently of my regular job with the Mississippi department of Archives and History.
MB – This was totally independent of our jobs.
BB – Did you have any great road trips together or separately in the research?
CW – Yes, the best part of the book were the trips Mike and I took together. We would meet in a central location in Alabama, drop off one car, and with maps and notes in hand, take off on a circular route to locate various areas. We took several long weekend trips. They were great, but exhausting. We would both leave our respective homes at like 6am, meet up 3 hours later, then drive around til dark, stopping at historic sites, then stay at a some hotel, then get up the next morning and repeat the process. It was always a great thrill to find a historic marker or monument off the beaten path after following some vague directions or such. Plus, those moments at Fort Mims, Horseshoe Bend, and Chalmette, overlooking the battlefield while we take photos still fills me with awe-to be on the actual ground where these momentous events took place. It is this feeling that Mike and I hope we can convey to our readers with our book.
MB – Clay and I have made many trips together, but as a group the ones for this trip were certainly the most rewarding.
BB – What was your favourite driving/riding road in your travels?
MB – Well although they were a little hazardous and difficult, I’d have to say all the unpaved roads we ventured onto were my favorite. When we did find old markers (placed in their location as much as 90 years ago when these dirt paths were thoroughfares) it was very rewarding. It gave us a sense we had truly discovered something people zipping by on the highways are missing.
BB – What’s next for Bunn and Williams as a team or individually?
CW – Well, in the pipeline, Mike and I want to do a similar formatted book on the entire Mississippi Territorial period-early 1800s to 1820-tracing locations where events took place that eventually transformed this frontier area of the Gulf South into the states of Mississippi and Alabama. Again, this is such an unknown part of history that we are eager to inform the public about it and its importance.Not sure when we will be able to get into it. We are both still a little exhausted having completed this one book while both working full-time jobs. We both wish we could win the lottery or something and do this type of work full-time.
Thanks Gentlemen for a little insight to your work. It has been a pleasure reading the book and interviewing you. Please support practical scholarship like this by buying their book at the link below.