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June 2004
First Vice President:                   Rob Monroe, Editor       
Richard Forrester                     2416 Edenbrook Dr.     
Second Vice President:                  Richmond, VA 23228-3040  
Shep Parsons                   

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 Table. 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" Logan.
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 to change. 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 conflict. 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 EVENTS 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 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 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: 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 of Alabama.
RCWRT Monthly Speakers for 2004
Newsletter Deadlines 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
Richmond Civil War Round Table Newsletter Rob Monroe, Editor 2416 Edenbrook Dr. Richmond, VA 23228-3040

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©R.C.W.R.T. 2004