YOUR HOMETOWN — Bridgewater: A ‘Passion’ For History

Preservationist Moved From New York To Valley To Pursue Love Of Sharing —  And Saving — Civil War ‘Memorials’

Posted: January 24, 2013

At his home in Bridgewater, Nicholas Picerno talks about his passion for Civil War history and battlefield preservation. Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R
A page from one of the more than 40 Civil War-related books Nicholas Picerno has contributed to over the years. Picerno is acknowledged on the page at right. Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R.
BRIDGEWATER — From the first time he stepped onto one in Fredericksburg when he was 12 years old, Bridgewater resident Nicholas Picerno knew there was something sacred about battlefields.

The bare tracts of land that may look insignificant to passers-by have a weighty history not lost on Picerno, now 58.

“Why did these [soldiers] decide to leave their homes? What was it that compelled them and what happened to them [after the war]?” Picerno asks, surrounded by Civil War books in his Bridgewater home.

“Battlefields are monuments [to] their courage, because those men, who understood the grim reality of war, died on those battlefields,” he said. “When you visit a battlefield, even today, there’s an emotional empathy one feels toward what occurred there.”

That empathy is felt often by Picerno, who makes regular trips to the “tangible memorials.”

While some may only know Picerno as the badge-toting man in blue on Bridgewater College’s campus — he’s chief of the BC police force — his work as a Civil War expert has brought him equal recognition in the history realm.

A frequent Civil War book contributor, speaker and teacher, and a member of several organizations and foundations, Picerno’s knowledge of, and affection for, Civil War history has only grown since that day in the ’60s when he walked onto the Fredericksburg Battlefield.

When Picerno, originally of Queens, N.Y., moved to Virginia 11 years ago, his main objective was to get involved with battlefield preservation.

For nine years, he has been a part of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, which is responsible for leading preservation efforts. He is a chairman emeritus of the foundation’s board of directors and a current board member.

“It is a huge passion [of mine] to preserve these battlefields because we’re losing them,” he said. “Our battlefields are disappearing quickly and with them go our history.”

Picerno is also a trustee of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond and the Lee-Jackson Education Foundation of Charlottesville, vice president of the Lincoln Society of Virginia, and on the National Advisory Board of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove Historical Park.
With little trouble, Picerno is able to rattle off facts about Maine regiments; the Valley campaigns of 1864, specifically the battles of the Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek; Antietam, Reconstruction in South Carolina, the Battle of Cedar Mountain and the Red River Campaign, his main areas of expertise.

Within his large library on Civil War history are more than 40 books that he has contributed to, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author James McPherson’s “Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam.”

One of his favorite ways to impart his Civil War knowledge, however, is to students at Bridgewater College. He teaches a class during Bridgewater’s inter-term about Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley and this is the seventh year of the college’s Civil War Club, which has about 40 members who take trips about every other month to battlefields.

Along with Stephen Longenecker, a history and political science professor , Picerno also founded a symposium about the War Between the States called the Civil War Institute.

“It’s really been one of the greater facets of being here,” Picerno said. “When you have a love of the Civil War and family and the college and its students and you can combine all that — what a great experience.”

Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or

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