Symposium Spotlight: McClellen’s Defeat Before Richmond

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by ECW Correspondent Jenna Cosentino

Doug Crenshaw likes to help people discover the Civil War the way his uncle helped him. Every year on Crenshaw’s birthday, his uncle would send him books about the Civil War. “He probably sent me about 8 books, including the classic American Heritage Civil War,” Crenshaw said. “I completely wore that one out and had to get another copy years later.”

Crenshaw’s uncle passed away in 1968, when Crenshaw was 14. Even afterwards, though, Crenshaw continued learning more and more about the war.

Crenshaw is now an author of Civil War books, with three currently under his belt and two more under contract. He’s also a volunteer at the Richmond National Battlefield Park, a member of the Richmond Civil War Roundtable, and a master when it comes to the Civil War around the former Confederate capital. 

Crenshaw attended Randolph-Macon College, where he studied history, and did graduate work at the University of Richmond. “I had incredible professors who encouraged me to think, dig deeper, and instilled a deep love for learning and writing,” Crenshaw said.

As he grew older, he became more and more involved with the Richmond National Battlefield, which led to becoming a volunteer for 10 years. Crenshaw loves being a tour guide for people who visit the battlefield because he gets to share his knowledge, and he has so much fun doing it. “My training in history was a great background for this. In history, you learn to research, write, speak in public, and more,” Crenshaw said.

During Crenshaw’s career, he has written Fort Harrison and The Battle of Chaffin’s Farm: To Surprise and Capture Richmond, which was nominated in the nonfiction category for a Library of Virginia Literary award; The Battle of Glendale: Robert E. Lee’s Lost Opportunity; and Richmond Shall Not Be Given Up: The Seven Days’ Battles, June 25-July 1, 1862. Crenshaw is currently working on a book with Drew Gruber on the Peninsula Campaign for the Emerging Civil War series and another on Richmond during the war with Bert Dunkerly.

“People hated history but said they liked it after reading my books,” Crenshaw said. “Most people who I run into don’t know anything about the Civil War, so I get to help introduce them.” He is passionate about his writing because he gets to tell the stories of the people who were in the Civil War so they are not forgotten.

Crenshaw will be bringing his expertise to this summer’s Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge.

“When General Lee took over the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862, things were going very badly for the Confederacy, and it was possible that the war would soon be lost,” Crenshaw said. “George McClellan’s massive army was at the very doorstep of Richmond, only about five miles out. McClellan’s goal was only to put down the rebellion, and he had no interest in freeing the slaves.”

But then came the turning point that Crenshaw will discuss at this year’s symposium. “Lee’s daring attacks drove McClellan from Richmond and was a turning point of the war in the east,” he said.

Crenshaw said there was another turning point as well: “With McClellan’s defeat, Lincoln would soon be moved to draft the Emancipation Proclamation.” Although McClellan had no interest in freeing the slave, Lincoln’s proclamation turned the war into a war for emancipation.

Crenshaw owes all of his interest to his uncle. “I doubt that I would have the interest in the Civil War that I do without his support,” Crenshaw said. “I probably would have drifted into 20th Century American history.”

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Only a limited number of tickets remain for this year’s symposium! Tickets are $155 each and cover all three days, Aug. 3-5. Click here for more information or to order tickets.