Civil War symposium marks 20th year at Longwood

Published 2:55 pm Wednesday, February 6, 2019

It’s been 154 years since the end of the Civil War, but the accounts of postwar discovery continue to inspire and capture our imagination. Stories such as…

The tale of how one man’s discovery led to the preservation of the Washington, D.C., boardinghouse that Clara Barton once operated as the Missing Soldiers Office after the Civil War. A firsthand account of the complicated recovery of the USS Cairo from the bottom of the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and its restoration as a virtual time capsule of life in the Civil War-era Navy. How the discovery of a Union field hospital burial site dating to the Second Battle of Manassas greatly expanded historians’ understanding of the decisions made by battlefield surgeons.

These stories and more will be the featured topics for discussion at the 20th Annual Civil War Symposium “Civil War Discoveries” at Longwood University on Feb. 9 in Jarman Auditorium. For two decades, Longwood has partnered with Appomattox Court House National Historical Park to bring top Civil War scholars and authors to Farmville for this highly anticipated event, which is free and open to the public.

“Discovery and preservation, recovery and conservation, lost and finally found— these themes will be examined at this year’s conference,” said Dr. David Coles, professor of history at Longwood and an organizer of the event. “In our 20th year, we are again pleased to bring these well-respected authors and historians from the Civil War community to share their deep grasp of the subject matter. This endeavor is all about educating the public about the Civil War.”

The impressive lineup of speakers is anchored by Edwin Bearss, a renowned authority on the American Civil War. Bearss, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, was first hired by the National Park Service (NPS) in 1955 to be park historian at Vicksburg National Military Park. He later served as the chief historian for the NPS. He was a featured commentator on the famed PBS program The Civil War and more recently he has appeared on the Arts & Entertainment channel’s Civil War Journal.

He will enlighten attendees with his firsthand account of the discovery and salvage of the hulk of the USS Cairo 98 years after the ironclad vessel became the first ship ever sunk by a torpedo.

“Edwin Bearss is a legendary battlefield guide, and his tours have been described as transcendental experiences,” Coles said. “He has a unique perspective to share given his 50-year association with our nation’s military history.”

Among the other topics to be discussed this year is the story of how the U.S.S. Monitor was saved after being lost for more than a century off the coast of North Carolina. It is a compelling tale of science, history, technology and archaeology that enables people to touch history.

The lineup of speakers includes professional historians and scholars:

  • Edwin Bearss, retired chief historian for the National Park Service, renowned author and legendary battlefield tour guide
  • Brandon Bies, superintendent of Manassas National Battlefield Park
  • Caroline Janney, John L. Nau III Professor of the American Civil War and director of the John L. Nau Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia
  • John Quarstein, award-winning historian, preservationist, author and director emeritus of the USS Monitor Center at the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News
  • Jake Wynn, director of interpretation at the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Washington, D.C.

The schedule for this year’s symposium is as follows:

  • 8:30 a.m. — Doors open. Introduction by Dr. David Coles, professor of history at Longwood University
  • 9 a.m. — John Quarstein, “The Ship that Saved the Nation: The Monitor’s Recovery and Conservation”
  • 10:15 a.m. — Jake Wynn, “Discovering Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office”
  • 11:30 a.m. — Edwin C. Bearss, “Recovering the USS Cairo from the Yazoo”
  • 12:30 p.m. — Lunch break
  • 1:45 p.m. — Caroline Janney, “We Were Not Surrendered: Paroling Lee’s Army After Appomattox”
  • 2:45 p.m. — Brandon Bies, “Unprecedented Discovery at Manassas National Battlefield Park: Field Hospital Burials Unearthed”

The symposium will take place in Jarman Auditorium. No registration or fee is required. Parking is available in the Wheeler Lot at the corner of High Street and Griffin Boulevard. During the day there will be opportunities to buy books by the authors present and have them signed. Lunch is available for purchase at the Longwood Dining Hall.

For more detailed information about the programs being presented visit Contact Dr. David Coles at (434) 395-2220 or Patrick Schroeder at (434) 352-8987 ext. 232 with any questions.