Written by Podcasting, UX Design

If It Takes All Summer

I followed General Grant and the Army of the Potomac’s 113-mile path during the Overland Campaign of 1864 and turned it into a podcast.

War Yankee - Overland is an American Civil War podcast about the Overland Campaign of 1864.

Podcasting about Civil War History in my Own Backyard

I love history, especially military history. I believe it stems from being a US Navy veteran who belongs to a family with a long tradition of military service. When I moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia in 2015, I discovered that my home sat between four of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. At the time, what I knew about the American Civil War came from what they taught me in high school and PBS documentaries. I had no idea what mysteries lurked in the woods around my home.

Each week I would take some time to explore each battlefield. However, I soon discovered that none of these battlefields made much sense to me. I would read each of the National Park Service (NPS) interpretation plaques and then go home and research what actually happened. It didn’t take me long to learn that the NPS plaques tell only a piece of a much bigger story. It could be because the real story is overly complex or that the whole story doesn’t fit well onto a 3′ x 2′ frame.

War Yankee - Overland -- The Lacy House on the Ellwood plantation served as the Union HQ during the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-6, 1864.

War Yankee – Overland — NPS plaque at the Lacy House on the Ellwood plantation detailing how this location served as the Union HQ during the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-6, 1864.

The Goal: Tell My Own Story

In the Summer of 2020 — during the pandemic — I decided to hike the 113-mile path of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Potomac during the Overland Campaign of 1864. I started at Culpeper, Virginia where the army massed for their offensive South, then toured every battlefield from Fredericksburg to Petersburg, Virginia on the same day of the action there 156 years ago. During each day, I would read, hike, and interpret each park, find the locations that were only talked about in history books, and gain a deep understanding of the bravery and horror that had unfolded there.

Once I reached Petersburg, Virginia, where the Union army lays siege to that city and Richmond for 10-months, I knew I had to share this journey with other people interested in this part of American history. I had collected and witnessed too much information to put on the shelf and forget. That’s when I started to conceptualize the idea behind a history podcast.

In a podcast, I could explore each day or even each hour of certain events during the Overland Campaign at my own pace. I could tell my version of this story — a story that had only been told in detail by two historians in the past 60 years — in the way I wanted to. This would include my own Union-ist bias (all of my family that served during the Civil War were in the Union Army) and give me the opportunity to weave in soundscapes that could amplify the telling of this story in an audio-only medium.

The Sketch: A Seminar with Soundscapes

To tell this story, I focused on the star of the show: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. Although he would not be the only star, I would use him as the continuity thread throughout the entire story. This made scripting the format of the podcast simple. I would host an episodic show that featured my voice telling the Union-side of what happened.

War Yankee - Overland host Kyle Bondo recording an episode.

War Yankee – Overland host Kyle Bondo recording an episode.

I would use all my research and site visit perspectives to add color commentary and then layer in sound effects, music, and ambiance to craft soundscapes reminiscent of sounds of the time. This would take a somewhat dry presentation and bring the entire audio production to life when heard only through headphones.

War Yankee - Overland Adobe Audition soundscape design example from Episode #9 - Defiant Blue Knot - showing how AX laying is the secret to immersive audio.

War Yankee – Overland Adobe Audition soundscape design example from Episode #9 – Defiant Blue Knot – showing how AX laying is the secret to immersive audio.

The Prototype: Perspective Mixed with Color Commentary

Grant was the most important person in War Yankee – Overland, I also decided that the show art for the podcast should feature him as well. Using US Library of Congress photography of the time, I was able to create a colorized version of Grant that tied the entire branding of the podcast production together:

War Yankee - Overland show art colorization process using original US Library of Congress archived photography form 1865.

War Yankee – Overland show art colorization process using original US Library of Congress archived photography form 1865.

The typography needed to communicate an 1860’s style without being too exotic. I applied a font called The Goldsmith Vintage to the podcast title and gave the final podcast show art a professional yet historical feel.

War Yankee - Overland final podcast show art.

War Yankee – Overland final podcast show art (waryankee.com).

The Podcast: Connecting My WHY to the Show Description

The final element of War Yankee – Overland’s AX design was to translate the reason for doing this podcast into a compelling show description. The following is the final version of the copy used at launch on July 4th, 2020:

It’s May 1864, and the Union enters its fourth year of war against the Confederacy succession. Ulysses S. Grant — Hero of Vicksburg — has been promoted to General-in-Chief of the entire Union Army by President Lincoln in a last-ditch effort to win the war. Grant, placing his command in the field with the Army of the Potomac, will now execute his own aggressive strategy against the rebels and all fronts. But first, he must spend the next 47-days fighting his way across the enemy-held Commonwealth of Virginia.

Join amateur historian and US Navy veteran Kyle M. Bondo, as he follows the history of Grant’s Overland Campaign from Washington, DC, to Petersburg, Virginia, in War Yankee, an American Civil War Podcast is a history podcast presented by Gagglepod.

Here is the trailer to War Yankee – Overland released on July 4th, 2020:

Visit waryankee.com to listen to all available War Yankee – Overland episodes.

Insight and Reflection

American Civil War history is an immense topic to cover. Deciding to only focus on the Overland Campaign between May-June 1864 still involved hours of reading, searching, and questioning both the known and unknown. I hiked hundreds of miles across dozens of battlefields, discovered how the National Park Service (NPS) interpretations leave out most of the details and learned how often historians disagree with each other over the smallest details. This leaves a lot of room for other historians — even amateur ones — to tell the stories they want to tell.

A new interest in history also adds to a greater understanding of what our forefathers went through to keep the United States of America united while sacrificing life and limb to end slavery. I believe that the Overland Campaign, not Gettysburg, is where the tide changed for the Union Army during the Civil War. Although Gettysburg has many elements that contributed to the final defeat of the Confederacy, I find the quiet, forgotten battlefields between Culpeper and Petersburg to be where the highest price was paid to keep the promise of the Declaration of Independance in that:

“… all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is no accident that Virginia holds the most expensive land in all of America. Paid for by tens of thousands of American lives. That, to me, sounds like a story worth telling. My only hope is that I can do it justice.

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