Columnist unearths 'Strange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War'

Tim Rowland 'accentuates the oddball' in his latest book

December 22, 2011|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI |

Tim Rowland is not trying to break new ground in Civil War scholarship.

He does not aspire to excavate artifacts or even to discover wholly untold tales.

What he does promise from his recently published book, "Strange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War," is a unique perspective.

"I'm not gonna dig up anything new that a historian hasn't already found before. But I will see things from a perspective no one has done before," he said. "I tend to accentuate the oddball."

Rowland, a columnist for The Herald-Mail and other publications, has written a memoir and several narrative history books. For his latest book, he drew inspiration from his longtime fascination with the War Between the States.

As a boy, Rowland, now 51, spent time as his grandfather's camp in the Adirondacks. When a boat would pass by leaving a big wake, he'd stand waving his arms pretending to be a soldier.

"The Civil War was to my generation of kids what dinosaurs and monsters are today," he said. "I was a big fan of Abe Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. I never reconciled how that was supposed to work."

Rowland said he "got into history" while studying journalism at West Virginia University. But he found textbook accounts of events "dry" and "difficult to get through."

"This (book) is my answer to dry history," he said. "Of course, I go into everything I write with an eye toward humor. Even though the Civil War isn't a notoriously funny subject."

Surrounding the farmhouse Rowland shares with his wife, Beth, outside of Boonsboro are the very hills that Civil War soldiers trod.

Together, the couple writes a column called "Field Notes" for "America's Civil War" magazine. Writing that column compelled him, in part, to write "Strange and Obscure Stories," Rowland said.

"There is so much talk of flanking maneuvers, strategies, tactics. At some point, it dawned on me that if you take all the days of major battles and put them all together, it would take about two weeks," he said. "There must have been a lot going on that did not have to do with fighting."

In a compilation of 16 vignettes, Rowland outlines outlandish and humorous events that took place behind more commonly-known Civil War scenes.

"It starts with John Brown and continues chronologically with something weird about each battle," Rowland said. "Then it ends with something weird that people probably didn't know about Appomattox."

He said one of his favorite discoveries involves the story of John Rowlands, who was later known as Sir Henry Morton Stanley. The Welsh-born journalist and explorer who searched for David Livingstone and famously uttered, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?," turns out to have amusing and colorful ties to the Civil War and to Washington County.

Other tidbits underscored by Rowland include a swashbuckling Confederate who excused himself from a ball to go shoot some Yankees, then returned to the dance; a spunky woman who disguised herself as a man to contribute to the Union effort; and Southern women's custom of sending panties to men whom they perceived as being cowards.

"I always like the quirky stuff," Rowland said.

"Strange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War" is available at, Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro and at

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