It was the war that divided America. It turned family and friends into foes; houses into hideouts and hospitals. Yards became graveyards as wives became widows. The Civil War hit home like no other war in U.S. history.
For residents of the Shenandoah Valley, war came knocking on the front door. Confederate General Robert E. Lee used the Valley’s farms to resupply his malnourished army on its way to attack the North in what many historians consider the turning point in the war: the Battle of Gettysburg.
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the July battle, Bridgewater College will host a live lecture series during its fifth annual Civil War Institute on April 20. The event, featuring four published scholars, is free and open to the public from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Road To War
The 10th Virginia Infantry Regiment, comprised of members from Rockingham, Shenandoah, Page and Madison County fought in the battle.
After their victory at the second Winchester battle, around 250 men from the regiment marched more than 150 miles to Pennsylvania to join the Confederate Army outside of Gettysburg.
Jeremy Hilliard, president of the reenactors’ 10th Virginia Infantry Volunteer Regiment, said the walk to Gettysburg was brutal because of the weather.
Only 175 would make it to the fight. The 80-degree temperatures caused many to fall out from heat exhaustion before the intense three-day battle.
“All camps talked about how soldiers’ throats were dry from the hard marching,” Hilliard said. But the march was nothing compared to the bloodshed that was to come. The estimated total of 51,000 killed included six from the 10th Virginia Infantry Regiment.
Civil War Institutes
Nick Picerno, co-founder of the Civil War Institute and Bridgewater College Police Chief said the BCWI started about six years ago.
“There was a growing interest in American civil war history. … So, we decided to … offer a lecture series that is both informative and academic, and would be enjoyed by people from all around the area,” Picerno said.
Interpretation of Civil War history is very important and the speakers will help accomplish that, Picerno said.
“The importance of battles in the Civil War will always be debated,” he said. “Some would say Gettysburg was the decisive battle of the war. Others might say Franklin, Tenn. … Was Lee right or was Longstreet correct? We debate that.
“It’s all in how we interpret what occurred. That’s what makes the study of history, particularly in our role in Civil War history, so stimulating and exciting.”
While much is made about the Battle of Gettysburg and the soldiers who fought it, less is spoken about the town that was caught in the crossfire. Speaker Dr. Longnecker, a Bridgewater College professor of history and political science, hopes to shed light on the civilians whose lives were changed by the battle.
“There was a surprising amount of diversity in the town, which was only seven miles from slave territory,” he said.
“In some ways, it reflected trends going on in America and some ways it predicts the future,” Longnecker said. “[Gettysburg] is more modern than most of America, largely because of its diversity. This is small town rural America; this isn’t New York City. All these different groups, all this diversity getting along pretty well — hey, that is America.”
Contact Timothy Schumacher at (540) 574-6265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.