David E. Johnson was in the midst of a high-profile law career when he discovered an unexpected second vocation: writing. “My wife was in her
second pregnancy and was having trouble sleeping,” Johnson recalls.
“She was always teasing me about reading so much history, and she said, ‘why don't you tell me some history stories?’” Instead of putting her to
sleep, they captured her attention. “She said I should write them
Johnson eventually published articles in Southern Partisan, American
History, and Columbiad. While researching Douglas Southall Freeman
for a Columbiad article, Johnson was surprised that there was no
definitive biography of the legendary historian and newspaperman. Freeman
(1886-1953) twice won the Pulitzer Prize for his monumental biographies, R.
E. Lee and George Washington; he simultaneously edited the Richmond
News Leader, made twice-daily radio news broadcasts, and taught journalism
at Columbia University. Mary Tyler Cheek McClenahan, Freeman's eldest
daughter, admits that several historians had considered the task, but only
Johnson prevailed, “I thought it was just manna from heaven. He was the
ideal person. His method of research is so identical to Father's.”
Throughout the writing of Douglas Southall Freeman, David E.
Johnson enjoyed the assistance and support of the Freeman family. He was allowed
access to Freeman's copious papers—more than 244 boxes in the Library of
Congress alone. Johnson also conducted interviews with many of Freeman's
surviving relatives, especially Ms. McClenahan, and coworkers, including
nationally syndicated columnist James Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick was delighted with
the finished book: “David Johnson's even-handed biography of Douglas
Southall Freeman exactly limns an extraordinary man. The Doc, as we newsmen knew
him, would be pleased.”
David E. Johnson currently serves as senior counsel to the attorney general
of Virginia. He was graduated from the College of William and Mary and the T. C.
Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond. He lives with his wife,
Holly, and their three children in Midlothian, Virginia. Douglas Southall
Freeman is his first book.