22 March 2007

Rockbridge County Civil War Roundtable

Last night I had the honor and privilege of being the guest speaker at the Rockbridge County Civil War Roundtable. The RCCWRT holds their monthly meetings in the Preston Library on the campus of Virginia Military Institute. This was a most fitting venue as my talk centered around the friendships that impacted Stonewall Jackson, including John Thomas Lewis Preston, for which the building is named. There were about 60 in attendance and I was told that they had 5 new members join!

I also met many new friends, including Mr. Frank Grizzard, Jr. Frank is currently digitizing all of the Lee family letters and correspondence in a project for Washington & Lee University.

PRESTON is one of the most fascinating and most overlooked influences both in Jackson’s life and in regards to Jackson's black Sunday-school class. He was Jackson’s “most intimate colleague at the Institute.” Preston was a brilliant man educated at Washington College, the University of Virginia, and Yale University. He was born into an affluent Virginia family on April 28, 1811, “descended from the aristocracy of both the Valley and Tidewater Virginia,” and is credited with founding the Virginia Military Institute.

He prepared for his rigorous education by attending a Richmond boy’s academy where he became friends with Edgar Allan Poe. Preston’s grandfather, Edmund Randolph, was the nation’s first attorney general. As a young man, Preston traveled abroad extensively before returning to Lexington to build a successful law practice as well as several successful businesses, making him one of the wealthiest men in town. Jackson invested in some of these businesses, and the two became close friends. They also worked together closely on their church duties, with Jackson serving as a deacon and Preston an elder. So committed was Preston to his duties as ruling elder that local tradition holds he “never missed a session meeting during his fifty-year tenure.” Author and historian W. G. Bean commented on this close relationship: “Ties of family—Jackson’s first wife and Preston’s second wife were daughters of Dr. George Junkin, President of Washington College—and of friendship had bound Jackson and Preston closely together.” The combined influence of their “ties of friendship” still echoes through generations of Virginians.

(Image is from a painting of JTL Preston and hangs in the Preston Library at VMI)


Anonymous said...

I wish I could have seen your presentation. I founded the Rockbridge CWRT in the early 1980s, but since 1987 I have not been able to get back to Lexington much!

John Maass

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks John. That's a great and very active group.