First Vice President: Rob Monroe, Editor
Richard Forrester 2416 Edenbrook Dr.
Second Vice President: Richmond, VA 23228-3040
Shep Parsons email@example.com
June 2004 PROGRAM
Mr. Gary Ecelbarger
"The Bridge Blunder Before the Battle:
Investigating the Shields-Carroll Controversy at Port Republic"
8:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 8, 2004, at the
Boulevard United Methodist Church, 321 N. Boulevard,
Richmond, VA (corner of Boulevard and Stuart Ave.) Enter
the basement door on the right side under the front steps.
"The whole affair has been a stupendous blunder," groaned an
Indiana captain in Shield's division a few days after the
Battle of Port Republic. Another Hoosier officer
redundantly ranted, "The responsible general should have his
head decapitated." The ire of the combat soldiers flew in
two directions. Brig. Gen. James Shields and Col. Samuel
Sprigg Carroll took the brunt of the criticism for their
decisions in the action of June 8-9, 1862, where more than
1,000 U.S. soldiers were killed, wounded and captured in
and near the Shenandoah Valley town of Port Republic.
The commanders fueled the fire by pointing accusing fingers
at each other. Did Gen. Shields order Col. Carroll to
save the bridge over the North River or to burn it on June
8, 1862? "History, so far as I know, has failed to tell who
was responsible for that great blunder," insisted a
participant of the action. "There are volumes of unwritten
history stored in the minds of our comrades that should be
given to the public before they are forever sealed."
Newly discovered documents at the National Archives force a
reinvestigation of this issue. Red-stamped with "Copied,
War Records, 1861-1865," but never published, these
overlooked gems provide precious insight into Union command
decisions in the Shenandoah Valley in June of 1862. When
these documents are spliced into a chronological timeline
along with other archival and published dispatches and
letters, the resulting paper trail leads to a revised
interpretation of the events leading up to the Battle of
Port Republic. On June 8, 2004, Gary Ecelbarger will
commemorate the 142nd anniversary of the Port Republic
bridge incident by sharing the new information in a
provocative presentation to the Richmond Civil War Round
Gary Ecelbarger is a tour guide for the Civil War Education
Association and the author of two books (We Are In For It:
The First Battle of Kernstown and Frederick W. Lander: The
Great Natural American Soldier), two contributed works, and
a dozen articles about Civil War personalities and events.
He is a charter member and board member of the Kernstown
Battlefield Association, an organization that has
successfully salvaged 315 acres of the 1st and 2nd Kernstown
Battlefields and converted them into an interpretive park.
He is currently writing a biography of John "Black Jack"
Review of the May Program
The May meeting of the Richmond Civil War Round Table began
with the announcement that Robert E.L. Krick had been
unanimously elected Acting President for the next three
months. Also there was news that Bill Young would be unable
to speak at the Round Table's August meeting. Historian and
author Jeffry Wert has agreed come to Richmond to be our
speaker that month.
Dr. Elisabeth Showalter Muhlenfeld, president of Sweet
Briar College, addressed the RCWRT on the famed Civil War
diarist, Mary Boykin Chesnut. Dr. Muhlenfeld's
presentation was as lively, insightful and entertaining as
her subject. A Mississippian by birth, Mary Boykin was the
daughter of a U.S. Congressman who later became governor
while Mary was still a girl. At the age of 12, she was sent
to a French boarding school in Charleston, South Carolina.
It was in Charleston that the young Mary Boykin met James
Chesnut, Jr. and they were married only three weeks after
her 17th birthday. By age 20, Mary Chesnut was firmly
established in the elite society of the Old South. She was,
as Dr. Muhlenfeld explained, a "vivacious, intelligent
woman with nothing to do."
Mary's husband was appointed to a vacant Senate seat,
causing the Chesnuts to move to Washington shortly before
the Civil War. Mary grew fond of life in the bustling
capital and was sad to leave when James became one of the
first Senators to resign following the 1860 election of
Abraham Lincoln. Her disappointment was short-lived however
as Mary gladly relocated to Richmond when it became capital
of the Confederate States.
The Chesnuts moved into a house on Clay Street directly
across from the White House of the Confederacy. They loved
social life and had many friends, including Jefferson and
Varina Davis. As Dr. Muhlenfeld explained, Mary "was a
passionate character without an outlet." But that was soon
Historically speaking, Mary Chesnut had an uncanny knack for
being in the right place at the right time. Early in 1861,
she was aware of the unique position she had fallen into and
began to keep a private diary for the first time. She fully
understood what was happening in the nation and the great
historical significance of the events unfolding before her.
Evidence of this lies in the fact that she kept a diary for
the entire length of the war, but never before or after the
For four years, Mary filled her diary with notes, often not
even complete sentences. She offered no descriptions of the
people she mentioned - there would have been no need to do
so in a private diary. As wartime deprivations intensified
and paper grew scarce, she continued to write her diary on
scraps of wallpaper and in recipe books.
Following the war, Mary wrote novels for money. The subject
of one of these books was a teacher she had at the
Charleston boarding school. An unabashed admirer of Mrs.
Chesnut, Dr. Muhlenfeld candidly admitted this was a
"horrible novel." In 1881, Mary turned her attention back to
her wartime writings. She spent the next four years
expanding her notes into a full diary, providing a
bird's-eye view of America's greatest conflict.
Servants, slaves, middle class and elite - Mary Chesnut
wrote about them all, adding her unique insight. No one was
spared scrutiny. She liked Gen. Lee but thought some of
his relatives to be more interesting. She wrote of her
frustration with her husband for not campaigning harder for
a Senate election he eventually lost.
In her writings, Mary used three men to represent the three
"faces" of the South. Her aged father-in-law, Col. Chesnut,
was indicative of the Old South. Mary's husband (who, after
losing his Senate race, became a general aid to President
Davis) represented the contemporary South, completely
devastated by the war. Her nephew Johnny (who rode with
Gen. Stuart) was representative of the New South and its
hope for the future.
Mary Chesnut died in 1885, prior to completing her expanded
diary. Her work would not reach a wide audience for another
two decades. In 1905, the Saturday Evening Post printed an
abridged version of her diary. It was not until 1982 that
her full work was published. The literary praise that had
eluded Mary Boykin Chesnut during her lifetime was finally
realized a century later.
June 12 - Richmond Battlefields Association annual meeting
at Willis Methodist Church on the Frayser's Farm/Glendale
battlefield. Walking tour at 10:00am includes the privately
owned Whitlock Farm in the heart of the battlefield. Free,
open to RBA members and non-members alike. More info:
June 19-20 - Medical Living History at Exchange Hotel and
Civil War Medical Museum in Gordonsville. Surgical and
medical demonstrations in a real Civil War hospital. More
info: 540-832-2944 or www.hgiexchange.org.
June 25-27 -- Conference on Women and the Civil War
sponsored by the Society for Women and the Civil War and the
Museum of the Confederacy. Lectures, bus tour and the
premier of a documentary on the life and adventures of Sarah
Emma Edmonds, alias Pvt. Franklin Thompson. More info:
540-381-4518 or womenandthecivilwar.org or
June 26-27 - 1860 Summer Extravaganza at Pamplin Historical
Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier.
Family event recreating an old time country fair. Music,
dancing, games, cooking and horse racing. More info:
www.pamplinpark.org or 1-877-PAMPLIN
Last Civil War Widow Dies
A 97-year-old Alabama woman, the last widow of a Civil War
veteran, died on Memorial Day of complications from a heart
attack she suffered May 7. Alberta Stewart was a
21-year-old poor single mother when she met 81-year-old
William Jasper Martin, a widower collecting a $50-a-month
pension for his service in the 4th Alabama Infantry.
Their 1927 wedding was a marriage of convenience if not
necessity for Alberta. Ten months later, they had a son.
Two months after William Jasper Martin's death in 1931,
Alberta married his grandson.
William Jasper Martin rarely mentioned the war to Alberta,
though she recalled him telling her of the hardships he
endured during the siege of Petersburg. In 1996, Mrs.
Martin was awarded Confederate widow's benefits by the state
RCWRT Monthly Speakers for 2004
To facilitate the printing and timely distribution of the
monthly newsletter, information for it should be submitted
to the editors no later than the following dates:
June newsletter May 28
July newsletter July 2
August newsletter July 30
September newsletter September 3
October newsletter October 1
November newsletter October 29
December newsletter December 3
Information may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Richmond Civil War Round Table Newsletter
Rob Monroe, Editor
2416 Edenbrook Dr.
Richmond, VA 23228-3040