I am back from giving a presentation at the annual conference of the Society for Women and the Civil War--a great meeting and weekend. My own presentation on Julia Wilbur was well received.
And I learned a lot about--
Appomattox. We went there Saturday morning. A park interpreter laid out the few days leading up to the surrender. Why there? He explained that the dirt road on which we shuffled back and forth, in the middle of the park, was once a main road between Richmond and Lynchburg. With 60,000 Union and 30,000 Confederate troops, Lee did not know he would surrender until he read the terms (given to him from Grant, suggested by Lincoln). Some advance men had to look for a suitable place to hold the session between the two general. That's how they ended up there, and specifically at William MacLean's house. (The ultimate re-enactors were on the front porch.)
Varina Howell and Varina Anne Davis. Presented by Ruth Ann Coski, former Library Manager at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Varina the daughter was born in 1864 so did not experience the War. She nonetheless became symbolized as the "Daughter [also occasionally referred to as Princess] of the Confederacy and died at age 34 while summering in Narragansett, RI. Very complex life.
Maria Lewis aka George Harris. Anita Henderson, a physician and re-enactor, had researched Maria Lewis, a black woman who rode as a white man with the 8th New York Cavalry. Anita actually used our Julia Wilbur transcription to learn way more about Maria/George than she ever knew before, including her alias and the fact that she was a former slave from Virginia. So she updated the group on what she learned, thanks to Julia Wilbur (!), and what she is now investigating.
Lucy Mina Otey. Presented by historian and nurse-midwife Lyn Kraje. Otey was a well-established member of the Lynchburg elite, newly widowed at the start of the war, who organized 500 women to maintain a hospital. When the surgeon in charge gave her a hard time, she went directly to Jefferson Davis and was able to operate the hospital independently. It became the hospital that took in the most critical cases.
Mary Surratt. Kaitlyn Ramirez, a student at St. Mary's College, presented her thesis that Mary Surratt was wrongfully executed. She had delved into the primary sources to show that Surratt was not involved in the assassination plot, though discussion afterward centered around the When did she know and What did she do about it? John Lloyd, who was leasing the Surratt's tavern in Maryland, came off as particularly sleazy.
National Homestead for Soldiers' Orphans. Elizabeth Motich, a student at Villanova, talked about the origins of this home and a scandal that erupted there in the 1870s--girls were punished by wearing pants. (As she noted, with all the other alleged transgressions, interesting how this became the cause of the day.). The G.A.R. weighed in, criminal proceedings against the matron ensued, while the needs and voices of the children were lost.
Last but not least, that evening, the Rivanna River Shape Note Singers got us involved. In this traditional music form, four groups face each other and harmonize--the idea is more in the participating than the listening (although the best place to listen is right in the middle.)