31 August 2007

Thought for Labor Day Weekend

"Man is flying too fast for a world that is round. Soon he will catch up with himself in a great rear end collision." ~ James Thurber

(I confess. I'm guilty. Hey, is that my back pocket I see up ahead?)

Thank You Senator Webb

I was pleased to see that Virginia's junior Senator, James Webb, was recognized in the Civil War Preservation Trust's most recent issue of Hallowed Ground. The article states in part:

"Senator Webb, a highly decorated Vietnam Veteran and former Secretary of the Navy [under President Reagan], has deep, personal reasons for his support of the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program. According to the Senator's remarks, one of his ancestors, William Jewell [CSA], 'was wounded in the Battle of Cedar Mountain in Culpeper County, Virginia, wounded again at Antietam and was finally killed in action at Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863.' Senator Webb knows firsthand the importance of preserving these hallowed grounds, not only for future generations to experience, but also for those in search of a direct connection to ancestors who shed their blood in the war to remake America nearly 150 years ago."

If you've not read Webb's book, Born Fighting, I highly recommend it. You will quickly learn why Senator Webb is so passionate about his heritage.

30 August 2007

Lexington Mystery - Part 2

Two weeks ago, I made a trip to Lexington that proved to be most interesting. In fact, it was one of the most memorable I’ve ever made; for several reasons. I had promised some more details about the trip, so here they are. My first stop was at the headquarters for the Rockbridge Historical Society. The place was empty, save for executive director, George Warren. George and I have exchanged emails and chatted numerous times on the telephone as he assisted me when researching Jackson’s years in Lexington and his black Sunday school class. RHS has some great resources available to researchers and historians and, as a member, I’ve benefited from their assistance on numerous occasions. George and I talked for a few minutes, but he was closing up and had to dash off to an appointment. He was, however, gracious enough to invite me to return some time and promised he’d treat me to lunch—you can believe I’ll take him up on that!

I had already arranged to spend some time at the Stonewall Jackson House doing some research for my next book, so I headed across the street and was escorted upstairs by Curator Cathy Wright. After going through several stacks of files, I browsed through the gift shop and was pleased to see that SJH is now stocking my book. The Museum of the Confederacy has been carrying the book for some time and its gratifying to know that my book passed both the SJH’s and the MOC’s review processes. I signed the copies they had and purchased some peach jam for my daughter. (Peaches were Jackson’s favorite fruit, not lemons.)

I then went to meet a gentleman who is a lifelong native of Lexington in order to explore the great “mystery” alluded to in my previous post. This gentleman is in his 80's and knows Lexington like the back of his hand. I wish I could share more about his connection and what we discovered that evening, but unfortunately, I cannot at this time. I am about to bust! Suffice it to say, that it could be rather “huge” if proven to be true. In order to verify what we suspect, we need the cooperation of a third party and that is taking longer than expected. This particular mystery is connected to another project in which I am currently involved and, once this one issue is cleared up, I’ll be able to share more about that as well.

Hints: The mystery involves the dead. It involves a tragedy. It involves an old judge. It involves a long-hidden secret. Stay tuned.

29 August 2007

How Providential

Right after I posted my news about starting a tour business in Lexington, fellow CW blogger, Dimitri Rotov posted this over on his site, Civil War Bookshelf :

"Heritage experiences" trump site history

Well, well ...
According to Weiler and Hall (1992), heritage tourists are motivated “more by a search for heritage experiences than by a detailed interest in factual history.”
Perhaps, perhaps not. But I found the following comment from the same article even more interesting regarding "heritage tourists."

"When compared to travelers overall, individuals who travel to heritage and cultural sites (i.e., heritage tourists) are better educated . . ." Full story here.

So what does this mean? The better educated and more affluent you are, the more interested you are in "heritage" compared to "factual history?" Is the writer suggesting that "heritage" has to mean "non-factual?" If so, why are the "better-educated" more likely to be interested in these types of tours and exhibits? Hmmm . . . I'll check my cynicism.

28 August 2007

The Lee Family Trunks

Thanks to Jennifer Mason at the Virginia Historical Society for sharing this video with me. She thought it would be of interest to readers. I agree. It is a fascinating story which some of you are no doubt already familiar with. I must add, however, that I do not agree with all of Ms. Pryor's conclusions.

Virginia Heritage Tours

I have recently opened a tour business in Lexington which focuses on the religious heritage of this beautiful, historic Shenandoah Valley village. This has been in the works for some time and I look forward to spending additional time in Lexington. It is a very special place.

We Do it Better in the South

"It's rough. It's been rough on that food. It's different eating here than it is at the house. Ain't got no sweet tea, and ain't got no fried chicken." ~ Boo Weekley, PGA golfer from Milton, Fla., interviewed by the BBC on Day 2 of the British Open, 7/20/2007

27 August 2007

IRS Slap Down

This recent story in the Washington Times (and Richmond Times as well), confirms what a number of Virginia citizens suspected several years ago regarding the organization that placed a statue of Abraham Lincoln and son Tad in Richmond: tax-exempt illegitimacy and shady dealings. The IRS tends to frown on such schemes and, thus, stripped the "United States Historical Society" of its tax-exempt status. If the citizens of Richmond and Virginia want a Lincoln statue in Richmond, that's up to us, but promoting yourself as "non-profit organization" (when you are not) to take in unsuspecting donors is, at best, dishonest and dishonorable. At worst, it could be criminal. Those who ostensibly wanted to honor Lincoln with this sculpture have now forever stained the statue with scandal and shame. I wonder if the NPS will install an "interpretive" plaque? Probably not.

On another note, I returned from a great trip to Franklin, Tennessee about 2 AM this morning and will be posting some details about that trip soon.

23 August 2007

Why You Should Read This Blog

Yesterday, the Roanoke Times reported news about Lexington and the Museum of the Confederacy that you could have known a week ago by reading my blog. (Hey, they're part of the Old Media; I guess we should cut them some slack.) My report is actually more detailed as to "why" Lexington is not on the MOC's "short list."

20 August 2007

Slow Time Soon to be Show Time

My posting will be sporadic at best over the next 2 weeks. I will be moving into a new office September 1 and that will require all the "spare" time I have. Also, I'll be traveling to Franklin, Tennessee this weekend for consulting on the final edit of the Stonewall Jackson documentary. I do hope to have an update on the Lexington "mystery" by Thursday and will let readers know about the Stonewall film as soon as possible.

16 August 2007

Mystery in Ole Lexington

What mystery and astonishing discovery in old Lexington, Virginia is our sleuth-author-historian, Richard Williams, working on now? Where will his curiosity lead him next? Could it be the lost Confederate gold treasure that was supposedly discovered decades ago at Natural Bridge by an excavating contractor, whom then mysteriously disappeared? Could it be a 140 year-old hidden grave leading to yet more questions and mysteries? Could it be the missing Sunday school lessons that Stonewall Jackson taught to his now famous Black Sunday school? Could it be the lost writings of VMI’s first Superintendent Francis H. Smith, which detailed Lexington’s “great revivals” of 1856 and 1869? Could it be new revelations about the stabbing death of VMI Cadet Thomas Blackburn in the alley next to the Presbyterian Church in 1854? Could all of these things be somehow related? What mysteries do the side streets and dark alley-ways of Old Lexington still hold?

Why was Richard followed all the way home on Lee-Jackson highway the other night, from Lexington, by a mysterious, black SUV with dark-tinted windows? Is he in any danger because there are evil-doers who wish this secret to remain hidden?

Who are his cohorts? How soon will they be able to reveal their discovery? Or will the truth die with them? Stay tuned, dear reader, stay tuned.

14 August 2007

Update on the Museum of the Confederacy

My trip to Lexington this evening was most interesting, enlightening, and productive! I am quite thrilled (and surprised) with all I was able to discover, see, and accomplish in just a few hours. One of these historical "discoveries" could be something quite astonishing, if proved to be true. I can't divulge the particulars now, but I hope to know more by next week.

First, an update on the Museum of the Confederacy: Lexington is still on the “short list”; albeit near the bottom. According to MOC board members, Lexington is lacking in what other localities are offering, namely cash and a positive attitude about the addition of the museum to their respective localities. My understanding is that one option that is seriously being considered is having the main offices of the museum stay in Richmond, i.e. administrative, archives, etc., and then having a total of three additional locations with the following favored: Appomattox, Chancellorsville, and Fort Monroe. One of these localities has, according to my source, offered the MOC $6 million dollars to locate there. Another has offered $300,000 on an ongoing, annual basis. All have offered new, custom designed buildings. Lexington has offered politically correct double-speak and childish bickering along with a century old abandoned courthouse in need of serious renovation and, NO money. The other localities have more foresight and, apparently, more brains.

This is not to say that Lexington is completely out of the running. While I find this multi-site idea intriguing, I still do not believe that the other localities can offer the synergy the move to Lexington would create with the town being the final resting place of both Lee & Jackson as well as the home of Washington & Lee University, Lee Chapel, Virginia Military Institute, The Stonewall Jackson House, The Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery, and Interstates 81 & 64—but they will need to step up to the plate to remain in the running—and do so very soon (my opinion).

If the city fathers (and lone mother), along with the Rockbridge County supervisors, fail or refuse to convince the MOC to locate in Lexington, they will one day be very embarrassed once everyone realizes the golden opportunity they let slip through their fingers. And if they fail, that day will come. When I paid a visit to Stonewall's grave, I am quite sure I detected a fearsome scowl on the face of his life-size bronze statue, cast toward City Hall.

I’ll have some more “stuff” about my trip to post soon.

Off to Beautiful Lexington

I'm off to beautiful Lexington this evening for some research on my next book and a meeting. I'm also going to do some exploring of a little known, obscure historical "structure" that I'll be sharing with readers in the coming days. This involves a very old cemetery. No, not that one. Stay tuned.

13 August 2007

Reporting for Duty

On today's date, in 1851, Thomas J. Jackson reported to Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia where he would serve as professor of artillery tactics and natural philosophy.

Today in Christian History

August 13, 1587: Members of Sir Walter Raleigh's expedition to Roanoke baptises Manko, the first American Indian convert to Protestantism.

12 August 2007

Stonewall Jackson - An Enigma

"He became a spiritual teacher for scores of slaves and freedmen as well as the best friend many of them ever had." ~ Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr., presently an Alumni Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech (one of eight selected from the University's 2,200 faculty), and the recipient of every major award given in the field of Civil War History.

11 August 2007

Sue Them

I agree with Mr. Rotov, sue the developers & the contractors who did this dastardly deed. And a follow up question: If I take my metal detector onto NPS property, and get caught, I get arrested and levied a heavy fine, if not jail time.

Why weren't these trespassers arrested and made to suffer the same fate? Could big money possibly be the reason? Perhaps I'm uninformed on this incident, but what the heck is the NPS doing about this?

09 August 2007

You Know My Name

Yesterday morning, as is my routine, I was listening to the very popular “Civil War Roundtable on the Air” originating from the studios of WSVA Radio in Harrisonburg, Virginia (550 AM). This is an excellent call-in talk program and I highly recommend to all who can tune in the 2nd Wednesday of every month from 10 AM to Noon. You won’t be disappointed.

One of the hosts described a recent trip to the Museum of the Confederacy and Confederate White House and, while enjoying the tour of the White House, inquired of his guide if President Lincoln actually sat at Jefferson Davis’s desk as some accounts have related. The guide assured all gathered that “the gentleman from Illinois never went to the 2nd floor of the Confederate White House.” The host also discussed another recent visit to the Lincoln Museum.

The discussion then evolved (or would that be devolved?) into the utterly ridiculous and PC notion of changing the name of the MOC; as some have suggested leaving out any reference to the “Confederacy.” I phoned in and said “Changing the name of the Museum of the Confederacy would make about as much sense as changing the name of the Lincoln Museum to The Gentleman from Illinois Museum.” With hardy laughter, the hosts agreed. Sanity still exists in some quarters of the media, if not in certain quarters of academia.

08 August 2007

Insightful Comments from Ed Hooper

I highly recommend this excellent piece about the state of public education in America, particularly U.S. History. This is especially timely coming on the heels of my previous post about one of the few bright spots in American education: The homeschooling movement.

Civil War Courier Editor Ed Hooper's article is titled: "Time to stop education's campaign against history " Here are a few excerpts:

"We are seeing generation after generation graduate from our school systems with no knowledge of their past or this nation’s collective history and how it requires participation from its citizenry. We have allowed the history of both the U.S. and the world to be sequestered by race and creed and the unifying story that brought forth one nation from many nationalities is tossed aside and goes untaught for political reasons that are quite incredible to hear. To make matters worse, historical knowledge is not even measured on USDOE tests required for graduation and, sadly, excuses for its absence are beginning to fall silent as it becomes an unquestioned fact of life in public education. The public school systems in many states have stopped offering history and civics to students. Subjects such as the Revolutionary War, the U.S. Civil War, the Jewish Holocaust in World War II are regarded as too complex or too political to teach anymore. My personal favorite from a school system administrator was "We don't have time to teach these subjects."

And . . . "The sad truth is naturalized-immigrants learn more about our system of government and its history in a few night classes, which are usually taught by the same public school teachers, than U.S. students do in 12 years of primary education. If you don’t believe me, go to a swearing-in ceremony of U.S. citizens and simply ask them questions about U.S. civics and history."

Read the full article here.

Our Forefathers Were Right

Homeschooling Works.

Once Again Homeschoolers Score High on the ACT Exam

Recently released statistics show the 2006 average ACT composite score for homeschooled students was 22.4, compared to the national average composite of 21.1!

Now homeschoolers have an unbroken record for the last 10 years—since 1996, when testing officials started tracking them—of scoring higher on the ACT than the national average.

For example, the 2005 average ACT composite score for homeschooled students was 22.5, compared to the national average of 20.9.

The 8,075 homeschool graduates who took the ACT in 2005 comprised about 1 percent of all those who took the college entrance exam.

The 1996 ACT results showed that in English, homeschoolers scored 22.5, compared to the national average of 20.3. In math, homeschoolers scored 19.2, compared to the national average of 20.2. In reading, homeschoolers outshone their public school counterparts 24.1 to 21.3. In science, homeschoolers scored 21.9, compared to 21.1.

According to the 1998 ACT High School Profile Report, 2,610 graduating homeschoolers took the ACT and scored an average of 22.8 out of a possible 36 points. This score is slightly higher than the 1997 report released on the results of 1,926 homeschool graduates, which found that homeschoolers maintained an average of 22.5. This is higher than the national average, which was 21.0 in both 1997 and 1998.

In 2003, Iowa State University’s admissions department data showed that homeschoolers had a 26.1 mean ACT composite score, as compared to a 24.6 mean score for all entering freshmen beginning in the fall of that year. The University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) have also seen higher ACT and SAT averages from homeschoolers in comparison to the total school population. The cumulative admissions data from UNI reveals that the average ACT score for homeschoolers was nearly 2 points higher than that of regular freshmen: 25 versus 23.5.

In 2004, the 7,858 homeschool students taking the ACT scored an average of 22.6, compared to the national average of 20.9.

Since 1985, research consistently shows that homeschoolers on average do better than the national average on standardized achievement tests for the elementary and secondary grade levels.

This academic success continues through college.

The bottom line is: Homeschooling works!

(From HSLDA's Website Here.)

07 August 2007

A Confessed Amateur

"Historian, historiographer: a person who is an authority on history and who studies it and writes about it." ~ From Princeton University's WordNet.

I've always considered myself, at best, an amateur historian--and still do. That being said, I still felt uncomfortable referring to myself as a "historian." A few months ago there was quite a debate on the CW blogs regarding "amateur vs. professional"historians with many believing that one has to have a PhD to be considered a true professional. Though I can understand this point of view, it would disqualify Shelby Foote, so I don't find that perspective completely credible. Another defining characteristic which has merit is someone who gets paid from their work in history; whether that be teaching, writing, speaking, or some other endeavor.

I like Princeton's definition: simple and to the point. Since I do study and write about history and am an authority--at least in a very narrow field--and since I do get paid (a little), I now officially declare myself a historian, though still an amateur.

06 August 2007

Stonewall Documentary Update

I received the following email from Franklin Springs Family Media (the company working on the documentary based on my book):

"Families from around the nation continue to write us and tell us how much they are looking forward to the release of Still Standing: The Stonewall Jackson Story. We greatly look forward to making the film available to you! The final stages of post production have begun and we are putting the finishing touches on the film. A new trailer will be available soon through our website and we will begin taking pre-orders next month. You can also purchase gift certificates now and redeem them when the film is available for pre-order purchase. Visit our news page and check your inbox for more updates in the coming weeks."


I spoke with Franklin Springs' general manager, Mark Stubblefield, earlier today and they are very excited about this film. An original musical score is being written and recorded by a talented and popular group and the narration has been completed. I will be traveling to Franklin Springs' offices in Tennessee later this month for consultation on the final edit. An October 1 release date is planned and I cannot wait to see the final product. I will post a detailed description of this whole project nearer to the release date.

My Country

"When I speak of my country, I mean the Commonwealth of Virginia." ~ John Randolph to Francis Scott Key in 1818.

04 August 2007

What I'm Reading

Reading the Man
by Elizabeth Brown Pryor