The Civil War has followed Paul Hoza through his life, from world travels with his family to service in the New York National Guard’s famed 69th Infantry, to today as host of the popular podcast Untold Civil War. The show focuses on overlooked narratives: The stories that, as he notes, “make the War fascinating!” Paul is also an active collector with a special interest in the Highlanders of the 79th New York Infantry. MI Editor and Publisher Ronald S. Coddington interviewed Paul to learn more about his journey as a collector, historian and podcaster.
Q: How did you become interested in the Civil War?
It all started in my youth because of my father. My childhood was spent traveling around the globe because my father works for the U.S. State Department. I was very lucky, in this aspect, to have accompanied him on many assignments. I can remember, while in second grade, being in Nepal watching Ken Burns’ The Civil War and the movie Gettysburg with my father all with the Himalayas in the backdrop. As picturesque as that sounds, no view of ice-capped mountains could keep me away from anything related to the topic of the Civil War. Fast forward a few years and now I was in fourth grade. My family and I ended up on an assignment in Paris, France. I remember we visited the Musée de l’Armée and I saw Napoleon’s Tomb, World War I uniforms, and Medieval French armor Yet, as fascinating as it all was, when we arrived at the gift shop, I found the only book they had on the American Civil War. I still have that book. That was the moment I knew I had the Civil War bug. My bedtime stories would be read from Grant’s Personal Memoirs. ‘Just one more sentence on Grant at Vicksburg,’ I would plead to my father. Since then, my love for the Civil War inspired me to join the U.S. military. But, I couldn’t join just any outfit, so I enlisted in the notable 69th New York of Irish Brigade fame. The unit has an amazing history and I rose through the ranks to sergeant: The highest rank one can achieve on a single 6-year contract. It goes to show that as a child and even as I grew into an adult, my interest in the Civil War has dictated my life’s decisions.
Q: What inspired you to start collecting?
Honestly, I had no idea that one could actually own a piece of history. Then, one day, I met a man at a flea market in St. Petersburg, Russia. He sold me an alleged World War II Soviet Red Army Medal. I arrived home absolutely ecstatic at the prospect of owning true history. However, a quick search on the internet revealed that I owned a total fantasy piece. At that point I didn’t want to buy anything original because I didn’t trust what was out on the market. I decided I needed to learn what to look for in a piece. I discovered your channel on YouTube, Military Images and my interest once again peaked. One day I saw a Civil War ambrotype of a 79th New York Highlander, a regiment that I am a big fan of, and I just had to have it. Around that same time I also saw a carte de visite of Civil War Police hero Peter Hart. His story fascinates me. I took the plunge and purchased these items. It didn’t take much, but these positive experiences got me back into collecting. Since then, I have viewed collecting more as a job of caretaking. Rather than toss items in a vault in a museum never to see the light of day (nothing against museums, but a sad truth considering how large of collections they hold), or rotting away in the attic of someone who just doesn’t cherish the item. I feel it is a duty to preserve these items.
Q: You have a special interest in the Highlanders of the 79th New York State Militia. Why this regiment?
In elementary school I had a wealth of international teachers. In the third grade I had a Scottish teacher who taught my class about her country. I soon became intrigued by the Scottish warrior culture — kilts, claymores, a great accent. The Scottish Civil War uniform was just the ultimate combination. I find the unit itself quite fascinating. They served in almost every theatre of conflict: Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi just to name a few. At First Bull Run they formed a square to protect the Union retreat from Jeb Stuart’s cavalry. Later in the war, they even led a successful charge against mounted cavalry. This defied all known 19th century military tactics. The cavalry often charged infantry and routed them, but infantry hardly charged cavalry. It may have been the first and only time that happened up until that instance. With these points, you could make a solid argument that they did more than their share to bring about Union victory.
Q: How did you come to choose podcasting as the medium for Untold Civil War?
In my profession, I hardly deal with history/history storytelling. I earned my BA in History from St. John’s University in New York City. History is my passion and I wanted to find a way to stay involved in the history world. Podcasting has given me an excuse to sit with like-minded people and discuss the Civil War. I never thought the response would be so positive and the podcast has grown greater and faster than I have ever imagined. It’s been great. I also wanted to reach an audience where it would be convenient for them. People might not have time to scroll through and read a whole blog or sit through an hour long video. But, on their way to work, walking the dog, doing dishes, they can easily have the Untold Civil War playing in the background.
Q: There are many approaches one could take to explore this period. You decided on the mission: “This Podcast aims to bring to light all the stories of the Civil War that remain forgotten and yet, are vital to our understanding of the conflict.” How’d you land here?
There are a few other Civil War Podcasts out there. Some focus on the war chronologically, some focus on the battles and campaigns, while still others focus solely on Gettysburg. I decided on discussing the Untold Civil War because these narratives, although overlooked, are what make the War fascinating! We feature stories about the camel at the siege of Vicksburg, soldiers of fortune, even Civil War themed whiskey tastings. Not only do these stories hook novice listeners on the Civil War, but it even excites those who are well read on the topic. There is something for everyone.
Q: You’ve explored a range of topics in the podcast, from Abraham Lincoln to Zouaves (Full disclosure: including photo sleuthing with me). How do you select subject matter and guests for each episode?
Late night rabbit-holes. Often times I’ll be online or reading a book and I’ll find some small interesting topic. I’ll dig a little deeper and before you know it, not only is it a great topic, but there is usually at least one expert out there on that specific topic. It’s amazing. For example, Doug Baum is not only an expert on Old Douglas the Camel at Vicksburg, but he raises his own camels. Robert Girardi, a great mentor of mine, does a great talk on the murder of General William Bull Nelson, and presents it from the perspective of a Chicago homicide detective. Joseph Valicenti, one of my earliest supporters, not only talks about Civil War Corps Badges and Dog tags, but he produces authentic replicas. An upcoming episode features Capt. Horatio Cooke, who Lincoln appointed a personal scout. Cooke caught Lincoln’s eye because he was an escape artist and Lincoln was fond of magic. The guest presenting this topic is Mark Cannon, who is himself a modern day escape artist. Stay tuned for that episode. But yes, these rabbit holes have allowed me to meet some very interesting professionals.
Q: Beyond metrics, how do you measure success for Untold Civil War?
Well, the metrics are a good starting point. Everyone loves stats and numbers. They are especially appealing to potential sponsors of the show and the stats for the show are great. We have grown quite significantly. However, I think that having an involved, active audience is better than having millions of downloads. One hundred active listeners who comment, email me, share my projects on social media build a great community and that’s what I want, a positive community for Civil War buffs from around the world. I have listeners from as far away as Australia and as close as Queens, New York. I love the idea of bringing these folks together.
Q: Since launching in 2020, you’ve produced more than 50 episodes. What have you learned from the experience? What are the big takeaways?
I wasn’t the digital editor that I am today. I’ve learned about how technical and time consuming editing episodes can be on my time. I have been able to embrace having a successful podcast that I pieced together and learned to manage one episode at a time. One important lesson is to stay on script. I promise to tell Untold Civil War facts and that’s what I do. People who listen to my show will not hear me rant or rave about politics or personal beliefs. We get that enough from the news and on other social media platforms. When people listen to the show they get the history they bargained for. It is often an escape from all the calamity of noise outside in today’s world. Creating these episodes is certainly my escape! I have seen other podcasts flounder because they started to preach. I don’t preach—this is not my soapbox. It’s an outlet to get Untold Civil War stories out to my loyal listeners.
Q: Do you have ancestors who participated in the war?
My family is a unique blend of culture. My father’s side came over from Slovakia long after the Civil War. My mother was born in Laos and was adopted by Texans. On her side of the family it is rumored that there were a few members who became “Confederadoes” and ran off to Brazil after serving in the Confederate Army. I haven’t done much research into that. Possibly one day it will be a featured episode.
Q: How has Untold Civil War changed you as a historian?
One of my favorite, and most unexpected, aspects of this project has been the people. I have been so fortunate to meet many great people and share enriching conversations. These individuals reached out and supported me in my efforts. I’m very grateful to Military Images for all the support. There are people I have met because of this show that I now share regular conversations with. I’ve gone from being a loner, interested in the Civil War, to being a part of the Civil War community. That, above all, has been very rewarding.
Q: What else should our audience know about you?
My hope is that they take away the following:
- The Untold Civil War Podcast has both audio content in the form of a podcast and video content featured on YouTube. People can hear stories (like the ones described) by going to untoldcivilwar.squarespace.com. On there I also have an Untold Civil War Curiosities tab where I offer Civil War images for purchase. All proceeds from sales help support the show.
- I’m always looking for 79th New York Highlander images! If they are wearing tartan even better! So if anyone of your subscribers can help me with my quest for some, please contact me.
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