Detzer, David 1937–

views updated

Detzer, David 1937–

(David William Detzer)

PERSONAL: Born September 29, 1937, in Washington, DC; son of August Jarvis (a U.S. Navy captain) and Dorothy Detzer; married Marta Moret (a research director); children: Christopher, Curtis, Katrina. Education: Pennsylvania State University, A.B., 1960, M.A., 1961; University of Connecticut, Ph.D., 1970.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of History, Western Connecticut State College, Danbury, CT 06810. Agent—Paul R. Reynolds, Inc., 71 W. 23rd St., New York, NY 10010.

CAREER: Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, instructor in history, 1962–63; University of Pittsburgh, Bradford, PA, instructor in history, 1963–66; Western Connecticut State College (now Connecticut State University), Danbury, CT, assistant professor, 1966–70, associate professor, 1970–74, professor of history, 1974–, head of department, 1977–, then professor emeritus. Member of board of directors of WINE-Radio and WRKI-Radio; consultant to U.S. Department of Defense.

MEMBER: Organization of American Historians.

AWARDS, HONORS: Grant from Harry S. Truman Library, 1973–74.


Thunder of the Captains: The Short Summer in 1950, Crowell (New York, NY), 1977.

The Brink: The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, Crowell (New York, NY), 1979.

An Asian Tragedy: America and Vietnam, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1992.

Allegiance: Fort Sumter, Charleston, and the Beginning of the Civil War, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2001.

Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run, 1861, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2004.

Dissonance: Between Fort Sumter and Bull Run in the Turbulent First Days of the Civil War, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2006.

Also author of more than twenty scripts produced for noncommercial television. Contributor of articles and reviews to scholarly journals.

SIDELIGHTS: David Detzer's published works reexamine events in U.S. military history from the Civil War to Vietnam. They include The Brink: The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, An Asian Tragedy: America and Vietnam, and Allegiance: Fort Sumter, Charleston, and the Beginning of the Civil War. Allegiance recounts the circumstances surrounding the siege of the South Carolina military installation in April, 1861. A few months before, South Carolina had been the first state to secede from the Union, and Detzer's account focuses primarily on Union officer Major Robert Anderson, who made the decision to seize the unfinished fort when that happened. Other states joined South Carolina in a newly formed Confederacy, and President Lincoln and other Washington officials hesitated about how to proceed. In his book Detzer explains that Lincoln's eventual decision to resupply the Charleston fort may have been an attempt to provoke the South; when Confederate cannons fired on the fort on April 12, they infamously became known as the first shots in the conflict. Detzer also pursues another theory: if the decision had been made to abandon the fort, might the "War Between the States" have been prevented? "With a novelist's gift for storytelling and an artist's eye for detail, the author brings new drama" to the oft-told tale of Fort Sumter, remarked Randall M. Miller in Library Journal. Booklist reviewer Jay Freeman praised Detzer for what he termed "a riveting and moving narrative" and, incidentally, "an interesting portrait of antebellum Charleston." A Publishers Weekly reviewer also gave it strong praise. "Detzer's writing style brings the reader into close contact with soldiers, civilians and politicians as they struggle to solve the fate of Anderson and his men," the reviewer noted, and predicted that its story would translate well into a television or film project.

Detzer continued his story about the Civil War in Dissonance: The Turbulent Days between Fort Sumter and Bull Run. In the opening weeks of the war and after the surrender of Fort Sumter, Jefferson Davis advocated the formation of the Confederate Army from the disparate state militias. President Lincoln's power waned as more states seceded and Washington, DC, became wedged between the ceded Virginia and Union-allied Maryland. Detzer uses primary documents—letters, diaries, and newspaper articles—to give readers a sense of the tension that pervaded daily life at the time. The book is "an engrossing account of turbulent days," according to Jay Freeman in Booklist. Dissonance completed Detzer's trilogy on the year 1861.

Bull Run gets its own treatment in Detzer's Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run, which relates how the battle was complicated, chaotic, and a strategic mess that was poorly planned and fought by its generals, Irving McDowell and "Stonewall" Jackson. Detzer also describes the burdens faced by the soldiers: their heavy backpacks, wool uniforms, and the lingering pain they suffered as they died on the battlefield. Though a writer for Kirkus Reviews thought Detzer's characterizations "do precious little to move the story or our understanding of history forward," Gilbert Taylor in Booklist considered it "a model of how a Civil War battle history should be written."

Detzer once commented to CA: "I am driven to write, as I am driven to eat, by forces I do not understand, by some internal pressure. It is not that writing makes me exceptionally happy or that I feel I have so much to contribute. I'm not even sure I really like it that much. But when I'm not involved in some project—gathering materials, doing research, organizing my thoughts, writing and rewriting—I become edgy. I feel incomplete, like a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing."



Booklist, April 1, 2001, Jay Freeman, review of Allegiance: Fort Sumter, Charleston, and the Beginning of the Civil War, p. 1444; August, 2004, Gilbert Taylor, review of Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run, 1861, p. 1893; March 15, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of Dissonance: The Turbulent Days between Fort Sumter and Bull Run, p. 20.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2001, review of Allegiance, p. 229; July 1, 2004, review of Donnybrook, p. 615; March 1, 2006, review of Dissonance, p. 218.

Kliatt, September, 2002, Patricia A. Moore, review of Allegiance, p. 38.

Library Journal, March 15, 2001, Randall M. Miller, review of Allegiance, p. 93; August, 2004, Randall M. Miller, review of Donnybrook, p. 93.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 6, 2006, Len Barcousky, review of Dissonance.

Publishers Weekly, February 12, 2001, review of Allegiance, p. 190; January 2, 2006, review of Dissonance, p. 43.


California Literary Review, (March 12, 2006), Peter Bridges, review of Dissonance.