Site Overlay

R.I.P. CWTI: A reflection on Civil War Times magazine

By William C. Davis 

It was saddening news to learn that after 65 years of publication, Civil War Times was closing its editorial drawers. As a junior high student, I was a subscriber. As a college student, I got my first publications in the magazine. After I finished college the magazine offered me a summer job before I went on to work on a doctorate, and in the end that “summer job” lasted 21 years.

Military Images.
Military Images.

When I started there in June 1969, the magazine’s paid circulation was about 15,000. The Civil War centennial was over, and the owners had a feeling that interest in the Civil War was going to dwindle, and the magazine would slowly die out. They even considered closing at the time but thought better of that. Instead, they put their prime attention and investment into other magazine projects, leaving Civil War Times to itself.  Hence some amazement when it continued to flourish, and even grow, until at one point in the 1990s its circulation had risen to over 100,000. Moreover, its success had opened the field for several other Civil War related publications to begin publishing. Sadly, most of them are now gone as well.

Those of us on the staff always called it an acronym CWTI, pronounced to rhyme with “kitty,” but one longtime part-timer always raised eyebrows by insisting on calling it “sweetie.” Robert H. Fowler, a North Carolinian newspaper editor, started it all in 1958 when he produced a one-time-only tabloid format issue that he sold on the street and at newsstands in Gettysburg. The success of that one issue prompted him to make it a monthly, 10 times a year, edited out of a walk-in closet in a spare bedroom in his Middletown, Pa., home. Fowler, all 6 feet 4 inches of him, was a wonderful man, and he had the full support and involvement of his wife Beverly behind him. After one year of the tabloid monthly, CWTI went to a magazine-format black and white publication for two years, and then in April 1962 the fully fledged CWTI began to appear.

Almost from the outset, CWTI published a mixture of articles by prominent historians like Bell I. Wiley and James I. Robertson, Jr., and promising avocational armchair historians and enthusiasts. Over the ensuing years, it gave a number of later distinguished historians their first publication, including Gary Gallagher, David Blight, John Marszalek, Richard McMurry, and many more. Encouraging young historians was always one of the most rewarding aspects of working there. And, of course, it gave me my first publications, and as a result of that a great career starting as an editorial assistant, and working up through managing editor, to editor, to publisher, and eventually vice president of a publishing division and presidency of a marketing division of what had become a multi-layered company.

“I vividly remember that I looked forward to the morning mail every day, for we never knew what it might bring. New writers and historians brought their fresh ideas to us. Readers sent in letters and diaries by Civil War ancestors. Photo collectors were anxious to share their prized images with our readers.”

There are so many memories brought back by news of CWTI’s closure. I vividly remember that I looked forward to the morning mail every day, for we never knew what it might bring. New writers and historians brought their fresh ideas to us. Readers sent in letters and diaries by Civil War ancestors. Photo collectors were anxious to share their prized images with our readers. Indeed, so much of this sort of material came to us that we created the Civil War Times Illustrated Collection at the U.S. Army Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks, PA, (now the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center ) placing copies—and often originals—of these documents in their archives where they could be available to historians and scholars. Over time that collection grew huge, and it is still a significant source for researchers today.

From an early date, CWTI began doing annual special issues devoted to a single battle, campaign or event. Eastern National Park and Monuments Service, which ran the gift shops at many of the Civil War National Parks, began to adopt those special issues as virtual park histories and used them for years.  Some are still in print I believe. As the battlefield preservation movement took off, CWTI issued regular appeals to its readers to make donations to the Civil War Sites fund that we created with the National Park Foundation, a revolving fund used to purchase threatened battlefield property and hold it until Congress could appropriate money to replace what the fund spent. We even had a hand in creating the Civil War tour industry, crafting week-long bus tours of Eastern and western battlefields, and steamboat tours on the Mississippi aboard the Delta Queen, led by wonderful friends like Frederick Shriver Klein and the inimitable Edwin C. Bearss.

And it was all such great fun. The office staff were delightful.  When I started in 1969, I was only the third full-time employee.  The managing editor was Col. Wilbur S. Nye, a West Point graduate and WWI artilleryman who spent WWII with the Army historical branch in Europe.  He was one of the first Americans into Berlin in 1945, and one of the first to get inside the famed führerbunker, a sweet, wonderful old fellow, who spent his early years among the Kiowa in Oklahoma, and had innumerable stories to tell. Then there was the art director, Frederic Ray, a cartoonist for Stars and Stripes during WWII, and later an artist doing now highly collectable covers for Superman and Batman comic books. He wore sunglasses even indoors and chewed on cheap cigars that had long gone out, sometimes only after falling ash set fire to his clothes!

Though I moved on in 1990, I never lost touch with CWTI, and still occasionally contributed something to its pages from time to time. Its succeeding editors like John Stanchak and Dana Shoaf maintained the tradition for care, accuracy and readability that Bob Fowler had started all those years ago. To the very last issue, it was not only an entertaining magazine for buffs and armchair enthusiasts to read and enjoy, but also a resource for succeeding generations of historians. Thousands will miss it, and continue missing it, as do I. It was and remains one of the defining influences on my life and career, and that of many others beside.


SPREAD THE WORD: We encourage you to share this story on social media and elsewhere to educate and raise awareness. If you wish to use any image on this page for another purpose, please request permission.

LEARN MORE about Military Images, America’s only magazine dedicated to showcasing, interpreting and preserving Civil War portrait photography.

VISIT OUR STORE to subscribe, renew a subscription, and more.

Scroll Up