BRIDGEWATER — As a historian, Charlie Knight loves to tell stories.
While discussions about military strategy might intrigue the true history buffs, it’s the stories of the men who fought in the Civil War that capture most people’s attention.
“Stories … that’s what resonates with people,” said Knight, the curator of military history at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh.
On Saturday, the 1999 Bridgewater College graduate returned to his alma mater to speak at its 12th annual Civil War Institute in the school's McKinney Center.
This year’s one-day symposium was entitled “Endgame: The Valley in 1864,” and featured five lectures about battles and campaigns in the Shenandoah Valley.
Nicholas Picerno, co-founder of the institute and chairman of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, said the event is a chance for many of the attendees to talk to the authors of books they’ve recently read.
“They’re able to hear the stories from the people who write the books and ask them questions,” Picerno said.
He said the institute is also an opportunity to discuss new revelations about the Civil War.
“Every year, we find letters, diaries and memoirs,” Picerno said. “They provide us with information to help fill the gaps of Civil War history.”
He said the documents shed light on the soldiers, many of whom were teenagers.
“They were real people,” he said.
Knight’s discussion, "Cadets at War: VI at New Market and Beyond,” focused on stories of Virginia Military Institute cadets.
On May 15, 1864, Confederate forces were able to temporarily halt the Union advance into the Shenandoah Valley at New Market. Almost 1,400 soldiers were killed or wounded in the battle.
It is best known for the 257 cadets from the VMI who marched 80 miles from Lexington for the battle. Ten were killed and nearly 50 wounded in the fight.
“They were literally taken from the classroom and put on the battlefield,” said Knight, author of “Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Campaign, May 1864.”
During his presentation, Knight highlighted several of the cadets, including Moses Jacob Ezekiel.
After the war, he returned to VMI, where he graduated in 1866.
He later found a love of art.
“He became one of the greatest sculptors in the world,” Knight said.
One of his more famous creations, a Confederate memorial, is located at Arlington National Cemetery.