30 December 2006

Crozet, Napoleon, a Tunnel, & Stonewall Jackson

Claudius Crozet was born on New Year’s Eve in 1789 in Villefranche, France. Crozet would lead a most interesting life eventually working as a soldier, engineer, educator, and railroad builder. He graduated from the Imperial Artillery School as a second lieutenant on June 9, 1809 where he had studied bridge building. Fighting under Napoleon Bonaparte, Crozet was taken as a POW during the French invasion of Russia in 1812. The young soldier wound up living with a Russian nobleman. The two became close and Crozet learned to speak Russian fluently, even writing a Russian textbook. Upon his release, Crozet was awarded France’s “Legion of Merit” which was presented to him personally by Napoleon.

Immigrating with his wife to America in 1816, Crozet became a professor of engineering at West Point, thanks in large measure to the recommendation of the Marquis de Lafayette. His contributions to West Point were considerable. In 1823, he became the Principal Engineer and Surveyor of Public Works for the Commonwealth of Virginia. But Crozet is most remembered here in Virginia for two very important accomplishments—both of which are connected to Stonewall Jackson. In 1839, Crozet explored and surveyed the Blue Ridge Mountains and decided that the most efficient way to allow rail travel across the Blue Ridge mountain range would be through a series of tunnels. The first tunnel, at Afton, was completed 150 years ago this year—on Christmas Day in 1856, when Irish workers tunneling from the east and west sides met.

The tunnel was open for rail traffic in 1858. Many of the Irish immigrant workers suffered an outbreak of cholera. As a boy, I heard local lore that yellow fever had also killed a number of Irishmen, along with some Chinese laborers, and that many of these men were buried on top of the mountain through which the tunnel runs. I, along with a friend of mine, attempted to locate the burial place in 1974, with no success. I did, however, successfully navigate through the tunnel several times. Of course, I was not the only person to have walked through the abandoned tunnel. At one time, it was considered one of the “rights of passage” into manhood by teenage boys who grew up in the area. My father did the same thing when he was a teenager (He unwittingly gave me the idea!), and Stonewall Jackson used the tunnel to march his “foot cavalry” to the east side of the Blue Ridge, befuddling his yankee pursuers.

Crozet had another connection to Jackson as Crozet was one of the founders of the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, where the future Confederate General served as "Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy." Crozet’s tunnel was an engineering marvel as it was completed several years prior to the invention of dynamite. At the time, it was the longest tunnel in the world at 4,273 feet. When workers broke through connecting east to west, they were only 6” off center. In comparison, the tunnel that finally replaced Crozet’s tunnel in 1944, though it was dug using modern techniques and machinery, was 4 feet off center. The new tunnel’s completion closed the Crozet tunnel’s 87 year use as a major artery linking eastern Virginia to the western part of the state. The town of Crozet, Virginia in western Albemarle County, is named after the Frenchman. Crozet died on January 29th, 1864.

(The first tunnel image is what the west side entrance looks like today. The second image is inside of the tunnel on the west side. Notice the small pipe. That pipe, and the solid concrete block wall it runs through, is about 12' long. There is an identical one on the east side. These were built during WWII with plans to store gas in the tunnel. I had to crawl through these pipes twice. The third tunnel image is what the east entrance looks like today and the fourth image is from the inside of the east side entrance. Much thanks to Mike Hutchison for use of the tunnel images - see: http://www.vtunderground.com/other/blueridge.htm)

29 December 2006

Re-writing History

"Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary." ~ from 1984, by George Orwell - Sound familiar?
(Image is of Stonewall Jackson on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia)

25 December 2006

Slaves' Friend

"With slaves, Jackson not only followed the Golden Rule—'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'—in 1855 he organized a Sunday-school class in Lexington solely for blacks. He became a spiritual teacher for scores of slaves and freedmen as well as the best friend many of them ever had." ~ James I. Robertson, Jr., Ph.D., Alumni Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech (one of eight selected from the university's 2,200 faculty members) and the recipient of every major award given in the field of Civil War history.

23 December 2006

Christmas Book Review

Our Annual Christmas Pick for Civil War Book Buffs ~


God Rest Ye Merry Soldiers ~ A True Civil War Christmas Story

By James McIvor

Published by Viking/The Penguin Group, 2005

Hardcover, 162 pages, $19.95

Reviewed by Richard G. Williams, Jr.


“Christmas has come once more and it is a very beautiful morning, but O! how changed the scene to what it was last Christmas. Today twelve months ago I was home where I could enjoy the blessings of a comfortable house and home of parents and friends and of religious worship, but this Christmas I am surrounded by warriors, cannons, and guns . . . But I hope and pray that the good Lord in his tender mercy may soon bring this state of things to an end and restore Peace and prosperity to our beloved Country again and turn the hearts of the rulers to peace for ever instead of war.”


This soldier’s heart-wrenching plea for peace and home could have been written by one of our soldiers in Iraq. But it wasn’t. The words came from the pen of North Carolina soldier Constantine A. Hege on Christmas Day in 1862 and his letter home is how James McIvor opens his wonderful book, God Rest Ye Merry Soldiers ~ A True Civil War Christmas Story.


Recounting the events that transpired at Christmas time during the Battle of Stones River (Tennessee) in 1862, this little volume packs a lot of insight into what Christmas was like during the four terrible years that engulfed the Nation from 1861-1865. Ironically, as McIvor points out, it was during those devastating years that Christmas became “a truly American holiday in a way that it had never entirely been before.” (p. 153)


Perhaps it was, in the words of Confederate Hege, “the blessings of a comfortable house and home of parents” that first made Christmas time so special for those lonely, homesick soldiers. As those thousands of veterans, both North and South, returned home after the war they doubtless looked forward to enjoying that first Christmas of peace with loved ones—thankful to have survived a war that took the lives of so many of their comrades. Yet those painful memories of the war also contained some poignant recollections.


McIvor recounts one such event as the Union and Confederate armies camped near each other at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It was just after Christmas, on the night of December 30th, 1862 that an unusual event occurred. The opposing armies’ bands began playing their favorite melodies; the Union band first striking up a taunting rendition of “Yankee Doodle.” The Confederates fired back with “Dixie” and “The Bonnie Blue Flag”. The duel continued as the Yankees played and sang “Hail Columbia”—“another song from the Revolution that the North had adopted as an anthem of its new fight in the Civil War.” (p. 101)


Then something unplanned and unexpected happened. McIvor writes:

“Finally one of them struck up ‘Home! Sweet Home!’ As if by common consent, all other airs ceased, and the bands of both armies, far as the ear could reach, joined in the refrain. . . Soon the men of both sides, North and South, were all raising their voices to sing the familiar words together.” (p. 102-103)


The final words of the familiar tune must have reminded the soldiers that they might not see home again: “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home, Home! Home, sweet Home!” McIvor recounts the words of one Tennessee soldier:


“And after our bands had ceased playing, we could hear the sweet refrain as it died away on the cool frosty air on the Federal side.” There would be more dying in the days to come yet the men who experienced this very special Christmas—and survived—would carry those special memories home to their loved ones. As the author points out, “The mass migration and social dislocation the war had left in its wake made a holiday tied to the timeless cornerstones of family and children all the more important to a restless and growing nation.” (p. 156)


If you need a last minute Christmas gift for that Civil War buff on your list, readers would do well to consider this delightful book. (This review appeared in The Washington Times on 23 December 2006 - Used by permission)

21 December 2006

Christmas Interview with "Father Confessor of the Confederacy"

Click on this blog title to listen to a Christmas "interview" with the Reverend Charles Minnigerode who served as Pastor of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond during the War Between the States. This is a follow up to my Christmas wish below and link to the Washington Times piece about Virginia's first Christmas tree. (MP3 file credit: Colonial Williamsburg)

18 December 2006

Merry Christmas from the Williams' at Huckleberry Hollow

Merry Christmas to all! At a time in our Nation's history when the true meaning of Christmas continues to be more and more commercialized and de-emphasized due to political correctness, my hope is that you and yours would enjoy a Christ-centered Christmas holiday and a blessed New Year. (Correction - the link in this blog title will take you to a piece I wrote for the Washington Times. In this piece, I claim that Virginia is the home of America's first Christmas tree and that the tradition was started by the Rev. Charles Minnigerode who was pastor of "The Church of the Confederacy." I have been shown this is incorrect. However, the tree described in the article was the first in Williamsburg and, most likely, the first in Virginia. My apologies for such a careless error. I hope you enjoy the rest of the article though as the facts are correct.)

13 December 2006

Robert E. Lee in Life & Legend












2007 Liberty University Civil War Seminar

Robert E. Lee in Life and Legend

On March 23-24, Liberty University will present its 11th annual Civil War Seminar. This year's program is entitled Robert E. Lee in Life and Legend. Featured speakers include the following nationally renowned authors whose books are familiar to all Civil War enthusiasts:

--Dr. Steven Woodworth of Texas Christian University (whose works include Davis and Lee at War and While God Is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers) will speak on Davis and Lee at War.

--Lawyer/Historian Gordon Rhea (whose works include Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26-June 3, 1864 and The Battle of the Wilderness May 5-6, 1864) will speak on Lee vs. Grant: A Grand Strategy and The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

--Author/historian Richard G. Williams, Jr. (whose works include The Maxims of Robert E. Lee for Young Gentlemen and Stonewall Jackson—The Black Man’s Friend) will speak on The Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University

--Author/historian Robert K. (Bob) Krick, Sr. (Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain and The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy: The Death of Stonewall Jackson and Other Chapters on the Army of Northern Virginia) will speak on R. E. Lee in View of Today’s History.

--Author William Marvell (Lee’s Retreat and A Place Called Appomattox) will speak on Lee's Last Retreat.

--Author/Historian Jeffrey Wert (Gettysburg: Day Three and The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac) will speak on Lee the Strategist and Tactician.

Other speakers include:

--Dr. Holt Merchant of Washington and Lee University will speak on Lee the Educator.

--Reverend Alan Farley of Reenactor's Mission for Jesus Christ will speak on Lee the Christian Soldier.

--Al Stone will star as Robert E. Lee in The Last Interview.

--Delanie Stephenson star as Mildred Childe Lee in Lee Behind Closed Doors: Lee the Family Man

In addition to the speakers' presentations, there will be numerous exhibits of Civil War artifacts and memorabilia for the public.

The event will be held in DeMoss Hall on the campus of Liberty University. Everyone is encouraged to secure reservations for this seminar by Wednesday, March 21. Admission to the seminar is $55 (which includes all of the seminar sessions, the Friday night banquet, and Saturday’s luncheon). After March 21, 2006, the price for both days is $65. Admission for Friday only is $25; admission for Saturday only is $30. Special lodging rates at the Days Inn of Lynchburg are available for those who will be attending the seminar. For pricing and location of lodging, call 434-847-8655. For special group pricing for the seminar or more information, call 434-592-4031 or email cehall@liberty.edu or kgrowlet@liberty.edu. Also, go to the website at www.liberty.edu/civilwar.

Schedule of Events

Friday, March 23

6:30 pm - 7:30 pm

Banquet in DeMoss Grand Lobby

7:30 pm - 8:00 pm

Welcome and Presentations

8:00 pm– 9:00 pm

Dr. Steven Woodworth: Davis and Lee at War

Saturday, March 24

8:00 am - 8:30 am

Continental Breakfast in DeMoss Hall

8:30 am – 9:20 am

Gordon C. RheaLee vs. Grant: A Grand Strategy and The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

DeMoss Hall 1114

9:30 am – 10:20 am

Mr. Jeffrey C. Wert— Lee the Strategist and Tactician

DeMoss Hall 1113

10:30 am—11:20 am

William Marvel--Lee’s Last Retreat

DeMoss Hall 1113

11:30 - 12:00 pm

Rev. Alan Farley--Lee the Christian Soldier

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Lunch in the DeMoss Hall Grand Lobby

1:00 pm - 1:50 pm

Holt Merchant— Lee the Educator

DeMoss Hall 113

2:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Delanie Stephenson—Lee Behind Closed Doors: Lee the Family Man

DeMoss Hall 1113

2:40 pm – 3:20 pm

Al Stone—R. E. Lee, The Last Interview

DeMoss Hall 1114

3:30 pm – 4:20 pm

Richard G. Williams, Jr.—Lee Chapel

DeMoss Hall 1114

4:30 – 5:20 pm

Robert Krick, Sr.— R. E. Lee in View of Today’s History

DeMoss Hall 1114

01 December 2006

Stonewall Jackson Documentary

Click on the link above to view/download the trailer for the upcoming documentary titled: Stonewall Jackson ~ His Fight Before the War. The film is based on my latest book and is currently in the production phase. Most of the filming has been completed. In the trailer you will see comments by Colonel Keith Gibson of the Virginia Military Institute, Susan Church of Jackson's Mill, and yours truly! Shots include VMI, the Lexington, Virginia countryside, Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery, and Jackson's Mill, West Virginia. Stay tuned for updates as this is just a very basic version of what will follow later - a much more detailed trailer. Release of the film is expected some time next summer. You can purchased an autographed copy of my book at my online bookstore, from your local bookstore, or from Amazon. (Image is of Jackson Memorial Hall on the campus of Virginia Military Institute)