25 November 2006

Shenandoah Valley Loses Noted Civil War Historian

I was saddened to hear of John Heatwole's passing the day before Thanksgiving. John was, for many, many years, in addition to being an author, sculptor, and lecturer, the host of WSVA Radio's "Civil War on the Air" - a monthly, two hour call in radio program about the Civil War. John often interviewed many famous scholars and authors such as Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr., Robert Krick, James McPherson, and Gary Gallagher. He even interviewed less famous authors -- like me! I always made it a habit to listen when possible and will miss John's insights and commentary. One of John's best known books, The Burning - Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, is a classic and gives a detailed account of Union General Philip Sheridan's brutality and cruelness here in the Valley. Sheridan's name is still disdained by old-timers here.

Though we were not intimate, I counted John a friend as he was one of the first persons to encourage me to write my book about Stonewall Jackson and his black Sunday school class. John will be missed, especially his voice and laughter coming from my radio. I hope WSVA recorded those programs for posterity. The photo is of John lecturing on the battle of Cross Keys. See obituary below:

John L. Heatwole, age 58, of Swoope died Wednesday, November 22, 2006 in Rockingham Memorial Hospital.

He was born March 24, 1948 in Washington, D. C. and was the son of the late John L. Heatwole, Jr. (formerly of Dayton) and the late Lillye Marie Preston Heatwole.

He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was employed by the Library of Congress before returning to his roots in the Valley in 1974.

Mr. Heatwole was a well-known sculptor, folklorist, historian, author, lecturer and tour guide. He served as co-chairman of the Rockingham County Bicentennial Commission and on numerous committees and commissions dedicated to preserving the Valley’s traditions and historic sites.

He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Miriam Dale Heatwole; his son, David F. Heatwole and wife Dawn and their children of Martinsburg, W. Va.; a sister, Stephanie Heatwole Price and husband George of Warrenton. Also surviving are his father’s widow, Lillian Cash Heatwole of Woodbridge; two half sisters, Theresa Howe and Juanita Ford; and two stepbrothers, Wayne Heatwole and Lawrence Heatwole.

Burial was private in Green Hill Cemetery in Churchville, as John wished. Memorial donations may be sent to AMC Hospice of the Shenandoah, Rockingham Memorial Hospital Regional Cancer Center, or to a memorial scholarship fund in his honor by contacting the Harrisonburg, Rockingham Historical Society.

(From The Daily News-Record, Harrisonburg, Virginia)


david heatwole said...

Hello Mr. Williams. Thank you for your kind words about my father here in your blog. I am finally beginning to piece together my fathers history, something that I have wanted to do since I was a wee lad, but was to busy with starting my own life. Sad that i have to go back and do it now two years after his departure. If you have any lead to any materials ie. artworks, writings, video and radio shows that i might not have can you please let me know. Thank you so much. David Heatwole. the site for my dad is http://www.johnheatwole.com

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


How very nice to hear from you. Yes, your father's passion for history inspired me in many ways. I tried to not to ever miss his monthly Civil War program on WSVA and I often called in to chat with him. He was kind enough to have me as a guest once and discuss one of my books. I really miss hearing his familiar voice on the radio and the program is just not the same without him. As a matter of fact, they reduced it from its original 2 hour format to just one hour.

I would suggest you contact Jim Britt as WSVA and discuss the possibility of getting copies of the old shows. They're may be copyright issues, so they may not be able to let them go, but I'm sure Mr. Britt could provide you with a wealth of information about your Dad. They still play his Dayton Christmas special every year and I listened to it this year once again. I know that is available on CD at the Dayton Farmer's Market.

All the best in your quest. I lost my father in 2000 and, like you, wish I'd talked with him more about family history, etc.

God bless you.

Richard Williams