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Imboden left few notes on role in Gettysburg campaign

July 14, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - It's taken 14 years, lots of phone calls and trips up and down the Tri-State area including to Cumberland, Md., and Moorefield, W.Va., but then again Confederate Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden didn't make it easy for Steve French.

Imboden didn't leave a diary or write many letters about the month leading up to and following the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 - at least none French could find.

Instead French tracked down the diary of Imboden's brother, Frank; diaries of Imboden's soldiers; letters from one of Imboden's regiment commanders; and magazine articles Imboden wrote after the war.

Having lived his 55 years in Hedgesville, Civil War buff French wanted to write about the war near the West Virginia town. He also was looking for something new about the Battle of Gettysburg.

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He found it in Imboden's effort to lead the left flank of Gen. Robert E. Lee's forces into the Allegheny foothills to distract Union forces by threatening their supply lines at the B&O Railroad. And after the battle, when Imboden was charged with preparing for the mass evacuation of 8,000 to 10,000 wounded solders back to Virginia.

To find experts and information about Imboden's efforts, French contacted historical societies along Imboden's route from what is now Moorefield, W.Va., to McConnellsburg, Pa.

Among those he called were family members of World War II Gen. George S. Patton, as Patton's stepgrandfather, Col. George Hugh Smith, served under Imboden.

French's book includes information about the Battle of Williamsport and the July 4 skirmish near Falling Waters, W.Va., where a Confederate pontoon bridge across the Potomac River was destroyed by Union cavalry. There also are maps, historical photos and current photos French shot of relevant locations and structures.

French, a history teacher at Martinsburg South Middle School, has about a half-dozen big boxes of research, and, finally, a 257-page book, "Imboden's Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign." The book was self-published in mid-May.

"Imboden's Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign" is sold at French's Store in Hedgesville, W.Va., Belle Boyd House in Martinsburg, W.Va., Town Museum of Williamsport, Antietam National Battlefield, Butternut & Blue Civil War Books in Baltimore, and Farnsworth House in Gettysburg, Pa. It also is available through Berkeley County Historical Society's Web site, www.bchs.org, and www.butternutandblue.com. The book costs $20, plus shipping and handling.

French has scheduled two book signings this month:

Sunday, July 13, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Allison-Antrim Museum in Greencastle, Pa.

Thursday, July 24, at 7 p.m. at the Fulton House in McConnellsburg, Pa., where he will speak to the Fulton County Historical Society. Free and open to the public.

By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Local author and Civil War historian Steve French has published a book on Confederate Brig. Gen. John Imbolden.

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