Yesterday, I was one of the presenters at the 11th annual Civil War conference at Longwood University. My friend Patrick Schroeder, who is the National Park Service historian at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, puts on this event each year with Prof. David J. Coles of Longwood, who chairs the university’s history department.
The topic was cavalry operations, which is why I was invited. I accepted the invitation because it was Patrick’s event, and I helped him to identify speakers. Old friends Jeff Wert, Clark B. “Bud” Hall, and Scott Patchan were all to present at the conference, and it just seemed like too good a time to pass up. When I announced I was going to participate, fellow bloggers Don Caughey and Craig Swain indicated that they were going to come, as did some other folks that I have known over the years. Mix in a private tour of Appomattox Court House with Patrick, and staying at the spectacular Spring Grove Farm Bed & Breakfast, and I was sold on the thing.
The problem is that late February weather is always unpredictable, and Mother Nature surely didn’t cooperate with this. It’s about 7.5 hours from here to Appomattox. In order to get there in time to take Patrick’s tour, we either had to leave at like 5:00 AM on Friday morning, or leave Thursday night, drive part way, and then find a place to stay so we could get in in plenty of time. That’s what we did. We drove to Beckley, WV, and found a hotel room to spend the night. From the time we hit the Ohio River until we got to Beckley, it snowed hard, and the farther south we got, the harder it was snowing. By the time we got to Beckley, it was nearly a white out. It was snowing as hard as I have ever seen it snow, with 30 mph winds.
We got up early on Friday, loaded up and left, and as we headed first south and then east on I-64, it continued to snow very hard. Some of it was some real white knuckle driving, but it stopped about the time we hit the Virginia state line, and the sun eventually came out. By the time we got to Appomattox, it was still gray and very windy, but it was no longer snowing. It was cold walking around with Patrick, but it was well worth it. For those of you who have never been to Appomattox Court House, it is a pilgrimage well worth making. It’s one of those places where spirits linger, and visiting it is a very moving experience. One of Patrick’s real contributions has been to focus on the fighting that occurred there on April 8-9, 1865, and we saw all of those sites, including the recently acquired 47 acre parcel of the Appomattox Station battlefield, which was a neat thing to see.
The problem is that the weather was so bad that Jeff and Gloria Wert got snowed in and couldn’t make it. That left a gaping hole in the program. When it became obvious that there might be weather problems, Patrick asked me if I might be willing to do a second talk, and I agreed. My scheduled talk was based on my book Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Generalship of Philip H. Sheridan. Jeff was supposed to speak about Jeb Stuart, so I filled in with a talk based on JD’s and my book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg. I spoke during both the morning and afternoon sessions.
The room was filled to overflowing. It looked like a room that seats 200 or so, and EVERY seat was filled, and then some. I had a chance to meet a number of readers of this blog, to meet folks who have helped me along the way like Ben Brockenbrough of Hanover Court House, Virginia, and new friends like Charlie Knight, who has a really good new book on the Battle of New Market coming out, as well as a new blog (which I have added to the blog roll), as well as some old friends like Harold Pearman and Charles Hawks of the Raleigh, NC Civil War Roundtable, who are both avid readers of my work. I also got to meet and make the acquaintance of Ranger Bert Dunkerly, who now works at Appomattox, but is an authority on the Revolutionary War in the Southern Colonies. We all sold lots of books yesterday.
My voice was completely shot by the end of the day, but it was a very good conference, and we had a good time. Susan, Bud Hall, Bud’s companion Kim, Don Caughey, and I all went to dinner together after the close of the conference, and then, after saying goodbye to Don, who had to get back to his hotel near the Richmond airport to catch his early morning flight home to Colorado, we went back to Spring Grove Farm for a nightcap.
After a lovely breakfast, Susan and I headed home and got home just in time to catch the last few minutes of the third period of the gold medal ice hockey game. Congratulations to the Canadians for winning the gold, but the US team has nothing to be ashamed of–they played great hockey, and Ryan Miller was nothing short of spectacular.
On the way home, we made a brief stop to check plumbing in White Sulphur Springs, WV. Right after we got off of I-64, I spotted a historical marker to the Battle of Dry Creek, which is also known as the Battle of White Sulphur Springs, which was completely unfamiliar to me. It was actually a two-day engagement where William Woods Averell–who has long been of great interest to me–commanded the Union troops, and now I’m interested in it. I may end up writing an article about it if I can find enough material. Time will tell. It was a surprise and completely unplanned battlefield visit.
So, it was an excellent weekend, filled with good friends, some wonderful battlefield stomping, good content, new book purchases on both the Civil War and the Revolutionary War, and beautiful surroundings. I’m a lucky guy.Scridb filter