Congratulations to D.P. Newton

Newton and Hodge

Robert Lee Hodge (left) presents CVBT’s Dr. Mike Stevens Award for Preservation to D. P. Newton (right).

Congratulations to ECW’s friend, D.P. Newton, owner of the White Oak Civil War Museum in Stafford, Virginia. Last night, the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust presented D.P. with its second annual Dr. Mike Stevens Award for Preservation.

During the presentation, CVBT Board Member Robert Lee Hodge called D.P. “a fisherman and a carpenter,” referring to D.P.’s literal carpentry skills–he once made a meticulous reproduction cannon and carriage–and his low-key ability to wow people with the variety and quality of his museum’s collection. “It’s homespun. It’s not corporate,” Hodge said of the museum and why he likes it so much. 

We here at ECW considerWhite Oak Civil War Museum a must-see for anyone visiting the Fredericksburg area. The museum focuses on the experience of Union soldiers during the 1862-63 winter encampment in Stafford County. (read Kris White’s ECW Weekender on the museum for more info.) Our understanding of the winter encampments and the experience of the Union army has been fundamentally shaped by Newton’s decades of work.

Last weekend, D.P. was honored with the DAR History Award Medal by the Historian General of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. ECW was one of several organizations to nominate D.P. for the award.

Congratulations to D.P.–and thanks for all you’ve done to help promote Civil War history!

The Amazing Archivists of Springfield, Illinois: An interview with Mr. John A. Lupton

John Lupton–Historian for the Illinois Supreme Court

I first met John Lupton during my on-going search for anything and everything Ellsworthy. I wrote about an exciting part of my journey HERE and promised that I would interview John Lupton in the near future. Readers, meet Mr. John Lupton.

MG: Please introduce yourself and tell us exactly what you do for the great state of Illinois.

JL: My name is John Lupton.  I’m the historian for the Illinois Supreme Court and director of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.  I have a master’s degree in history, and I’ve been working in the field of legal history for the State of Illinois for more than 25 years.  I worked for the Lincoln Legal Papers and the Papers of Abraham Lincoln documentary, editing projects from 1991 to 2009, helping to compile documents and lawsuits related to Lincoln’s law practice.  Since 2009, I’ve been with Court, helping to preserve the judicial history of Illinois with programs, exhibits, and publications. Our most successful effort has been our History on Trial series, in which we did theater productions of famous trials in history, including Mary Surratt’s conspiracy trial, Mary Lincoln’s insanity trial, Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith’s habeas corpus hearings, and an Illinois school desegregation case.

MG: How did you become aware that the paperwork concerning the granting of law licenses in Illinois was in any danger?

JL: A number of files were stored in the basement of the Illinois Supreme Court Building, including attorney oaths.  Oaths are the document that an attorney signs promising to support the Constitution upon becoming a lawyer.  In effect, it is the last step in becoming an attorney in Illinois.

The Clerk of the Supreme Court turned over its entire collection of attorney oaths to the Illinois State Archives in 2010 for preservation purposes, while the Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission provided the archival materials (acid free folders, etc.). It’s a great partnership among three state agencies. Since then, the Archives had been working for several years to flat-file and store the oaths properly.  At the end of their work, after properly preserving about 142,000 oaths, there were about 1,100 oaths that had mold damage from being stored in the Supreme Court Building basement for nearly 100 years and, at some point, being exposed to heavy moisture.  Most of them were ok, just with slight mold on them, but they couldn’t be stored with the larger collection lest the mold spread. A handful of oaths—a couple hundred—had fused together.  Separating them was a big task in itself.

MG: What changed to make rescuing this information even possible?

JL: Nothing really changed. I would say it was more that we wanted to get the 141,000 done first, and then figure out what to do with the 1,100. We had finally reached that point where the Clerk of the Supreme Court, the Director of the Archives, and myself could begin to wrap our heads around what to do with these fused, moldy documents and how best to save the information in case we couldn’t save the physical document.

Old State House, Springfield, Sangamon County, IL (LOC)

MG: As a historian, I think this work is vitally important. Why didn’t this effort get more publicity?

JL: Both the Court and the Archives issued news releases, but honestly, I think history news gets lost in the quickly changing news cycles, not because of any ill feelings toward history, but because of bigger and sexier stories—political intrigue and big personalities always get bigger headlines. I’ll give you an extreme example.  When I worked for the Lincoln Legal Papers, I researched onsite at the National Archives in Washington DC looking for Lincoln legal activities.  In records relating to pension payments, I found that Lincoln had worked as a pension attorney (a person who receives money for a veteran pensioner).  This work by Lincoln had never been mentioned before in any book or article.  I discovered about 60 or so previously unknown Lincoln signatures, including the ONLY time I ever saw him sign his name as “Abram” Lincoln.  Our press person and the National Archives public affairs person knew this would be a huge story.  The day the news release went out was the same day the United States invaded Haiti in the summer of 1994. Instead of the big story, the Lincoln discovery was relegated to page 20 and a couple paragraphs! Timing is everything.

MG: Who did the actual work? Who are the “amazing archivists” of Springfield who saved history?

JL: It really was a group effort.  Dottie Hopkins was the conservator at the Illinois State Archives and did much of the flat-filing work until she retired. Alex Dixon, the new conservator at the Archives, completed the flat-filing and had forwarded me a list of the names he was able to see on fused oath coverstock.  I went through the names and recognized E. E. Ellsworth, Charles Guiteau, Joseph Cannon, several Illinois governors, and several Illinois Supreme Court justices.  I passed the list around to other prominent historians in the state, and we uncovered a few others.  Those “famous” people, we decided to segregate from the rest of the moldy oaths.

Original document: permission to use granted

Alex carefully separated the coverstock from the documents contained within, and he encapsulated the documents to prevent the mold from spreading to uninfected documents.  Some of the documents were so faded, like Ellsworth’s, they were very difficult to read with the naked eye. David Joens, the Director of the State Archives; Carolyn Grosboll, the Clerk of the Supreme Court, and I arranged for the Justices of the Illinois Supreme Court to visit the Archives and examine these documents themselves.  They had many questions and provided guidance in making the final determination as to what to do with these documents.

MG: What exactly are these documents?

JL: Becoming an attorney in Illinois is a multi-step process. In the 19thcentury, the first step was obtaining a legal education.  There were only a handful of law schools, so most prospective lawyers studied in the law office of an established attorney.  Some, like Lincoln, just read the books and studied alone. The second step was to obtain a certificate of good moral character from any court of record.  The third was to take an oral exam before several of the Supreme Court justices or a committee.  If you passed, you would receive your license and you had to take the oath of office. In Lincoln’s time, the signed oath was a section on the license itself.  By the 1860s, there was a separate oath signed by the attorney and filed with the Court.

Again, there are 142,000 of these oaths in this collection, beginning in 1860s, meaning we don’t have Lincoln’s oath or Stephen Douglas’s oath—those would have been a part of the license itself. However, we do have some significant oaths, including a number of Illinois governors, Senators, etc. Probably the most significant oaths are that of Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson Obama.  In fact, Michelle Obama’s oath is currently on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum’s new exhibit on the four presidents who called Illinois home.

MG: Can you tell us about the digital process used to recreate Ellsworth’s letter of acceptance?

JL: The Ellsworth file was one of the more heavily damaged ones. In fact, the coverstock had basically fused together. Alex Dixon, the Archives conservator, was finally able to open the coverstock, and there was only one document in it.  There was no signed oath but only a letter from Justice Pinkney Walker to the Clerk of the Supreme Court William Turney instructing Turney to send a license to Ellsworth.  This indicates that Ellsworth completed the three steps I outlined above.

Original document: permission to use granted

The letter was very, very faded due to water damage, and it was barely readable with the naked eye.  The conservator scanned the document at a high resolution, and I was able to examine the document more closely using Photoshop and zooming in as far as I could.  I could discern ink, but was really unable to tell what letter was being formed because of the high zoom level.  In Photoshop, I began to painstakingly color areas where I could tell there was ink. Once I was done with the document, I returned it to normal size, and I was able to read the document, mostly.  There were some areas where the ink had faded away completely or there was a tear. But because most of the words were clear, I could figure out what the likely missing words were.

MG: Which discovery is your personal favorite?

JL: While the Ellsworth letter certainly tugs at my sometime Lincoln-centric universe, I think the discovery that fascinated me most was Charles Guiteau’s attorney oath.  Guiteau, as you know, was the assassin of President James Garfield.  He was also a licensed Illinois attorney!

Assassination of President Garfield

MG: What does Illinois plan to do with this marvelous, now-reconstructed collection?

JL: I should note that only the Ellsworth document was reconstructed. It was done because we knew it would attract the most attention—I wrote up a short article on it for the Abraham Lincoln Association. The amount of time to put into doing the others would be massive at this point. That said, the entire collection of 142,000 is stored in proper conditions at the Illinois State Archives.  At some point in the future, it would be great to at least create a database of all 142,000, and perhaps even digitize them.  But both of those projects would take a great deal of money and time. I’m not saying it won’t be done, but at least not in the near future.  Also, a lot of my time and effort this year and into next year is going into the Illinois bicentennial.  As you probably know, Illinois is celebrating its 200thanniversary as a state in the Union in 2018.

Thank you very much, Mr. Lupton. I know the work of the archivists in Springfield was difficult and painstaking, as were your Ellsworthian efforts on the Colonel’s behalf. Emerging Civil War is pleased to be able to give your team some proper notice, and we look forward to celebrating the Illinois Bicentennial along with you. I know you will agree with me that, without your efforts, it would be just a little more difficult to “Remember Ellsworth!”

Another River Line Shoupade Site Endangered

Our friends at the Georgia Battlefields Association recently sent this update about their work in protecting some unique triangular forts. Read below for more information about their efforts to preserve these Shoupades and consider joining their effort by clicking here.

“Since 2003, the GBA newsletter has run several articles about the River Line, a unique system of fortifications featuring Shoupades, triangular forts designed by Francis Shoup and built by slaves. Shoupade Park, containing remnants of two Shoupades near Oakdale Road, was authorized by the Cobb County Board of Commissioners in 2004 and established two years later.

On 15 February, a GBA representative met with River Line Historic Area’s Roberta Cook and Steve Morrison and rezoning application Z-7 developer’s attorney and two contractors in hopes of saving the site of another Shoupade directly across Oakdale Road from Shoupade Park. This Shoupade was distinctly identifiable until about 30 years ago, when the then property owner bulldozed it because juveniles kept using it as a place to party. We hope the developer will at least leave the elevation on which the Shoupade once sat since the plan calls for the prominence to be graded down to street level. We’ll let you know what happens.”

A Conversation with CVBT’s Elizabeth Heffernan (part three)

Heffernan, Elizabeth(part three of three)

To commemorate Women’s History Month, we’ve been talking with women who work in the field of Civil War public history. Today, we wrap up our series by wrapping up our conversation with Elizabeth Heffernan, the new executive director of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. Yesterday, Elizabeth shared the story of how she ended up with CVBT, including a stint with the Virginia HistoryMobile.

Chris Mackowski: The HistoryMobile is obviously a great educational tool, and I know education is an important component of CVBT’s job. Why is that so important?

Elizabeth Heffernan: I think to be passionate about a cause, you would first need to understand it. One of CVBT’s goals in education is to instill the desire for all ages to become involved. For prosperity of our nation, we are obligated to educate our children about their history so that it will continue to live on and hopefully we won’t make the same mistakes in the future. 

CM: What’s next on the horizon for you at CVBT?

EH: We are currently getting ready for our Annual Meeting coming up April 20-22, which features some fabulous tours lead by well-known historians Eric Wittenberg, Robert E. L. Krick, and Scott Walker; a wonderful annual meeting dinner and presentation about Civil War photography in 3D by Bob Zeller; and ending with a Sunday brunch and tour at Stevenson Ridge on the Spotsylvania Battlefield, which is being led by YOU, Chris, which is the perfect way to wrap up a wonderful weekend!

The tickets are sold ala carte and are still available, so anyone interested can go to our website.

Heffernan-McAuliffe Transportation Conference 2014

Heffernan (left) with Gov. McAullife at the Governor’s Transportation Conference in 2014.

What else… I intend to concentrate my efforts on establishing strong working relationships with the many people who support our mission; I plan to pour myself into learning more about grant writing and land acquisition; and I will strive to accomplish positive growth for CVBT in an attempt to prove my worthiness of this great honor of being selected as their new executive director!

CM: You also just announced a new opportunity at Spotsylvania last week. Can you tell me about that?

EH: Yes! It has been an exciting first few months on the job. We just closed on the “Fifth Corps Brock Road Tract” on March 8. This property consists of three parcels right on Brock Road that back up to the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield. It is a little more than 14 acres and has many significant Civil War stories associated with it, but my favorite one is about Major General John Sedgwick when he famously scolded his soldiers that were ducking bullets whizzing by their heads: “What! What! Men dodging this way for single bullets.” “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance”—and as the words came out of his mouth, he was fatally wounded and fell into the arms of one of his ducking soldiers!

I love CW stories that reveal soldier’s personalities. It makes them more relatable.

Check out our website for more information about this property.

CM: I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to get out and visit any of CVBT’s properties since it’s been winter, but do you have a favorite yet? Or something that’s particularly caught your eye or interest?

EH: Well, that’s an easy question, the Fifth Corps Brock Road Tract will always be incredibly special to me as it was “my first”! I will always remember throwing on some boots and a hat to go out there with our lands manager, Mike Greenfield, and walk every inch of the 14 acres looking for earthworks, NPS monuments, and property boundary lines. Then it was also very interesting to be part of the process in purchasing the land. There were so many people involved, including our board of directors, the surveyor, the appraiser, the real estate agent, the bank, the attorney and the title company.

Oh, and the best part: I can’t tell you what a rush it was to write a check of that size representing the hundreds of people who donated those funds all for the specific purpose of preserving history.

CM: What have I not asked you that I should have?

EH: Chris, thank you for this opportunity. I look forward to working with Emerging Civil War and welcome any of your members to visit our office.

A Conversation with CVBT’s Elizabeth Heffernan (part two)

Heffernan-HistoryMobile w: son 2012

Elizabeth Heffernan with her son, Benny, with the HistoryMobile in 2012.

(part two of three)

We’re talking this week with Elizabeth Heffernan, the new executive director of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT). Yesterday, Elizabeth shared an overview of the organization. Today, she talks a bit about the road that brought her to CVBT.

Chris Mackowski: When you thought about applying for the CVBT job, what was it about the organization you found attractive?

Elizabeth Heffernan: Well of course the subject matter and the mission were appealing. Naturally, it is more rewarding to be able to contribute in a positive way like this. But I was also drawn in by the diversified responsibilities of the role. Some portions of this job are things that I have successfully accomplished in past positions, which is very comforting, and then there are some things that I have never done before in my life, which I think presents a really exciting challenge. 

CM: What are some of those “diversified responsibilities”?

EH: The ones that I am very familiar with are sales, marketing, finance—budgeting, purchasing, AR & AP—event coordination, and management. The responsibilities that are complete firsts for me are land acquisition, grant writing, and non-profit fund raising, which has a culture completely of its own.

CM: I’m sure each day is different because you probably have to wear a lot of hats, but what’s a typical day in the office been like for you?

EH: Picture watching the ball inside a pinball machine, I think that’s probably a lot like watching me on a typical day in the office. Ok, I am not going to be THAT person who thinks they are busier than everyone else—but dang, Chris, I do feel like I could work 24/7 at this job if my body would permit. I’m actually writing this on a Saturday in between running my personal business on the side. But you know, I wouldn’t change it for anything. What do they say? You can sleep when you’re dead!

CM: Prior to working with CVBT, you worked in events management. Tell me about that.

EH: I was the membership & activities director for nine years at the Fredericksburg Country Club, which was primarily a sales position, but I was also responsible for the planning and execution of the member events each year. Some of these parties were incredibly elaborate, boasting mass amounts of decorations that could take a year to plan and purchase, three days to set up, and all-hands-on deck staffing—and just for a six-hour event. But I really loved doing it, and the events always helped me to sell memberships, so win-win.

My most recent role, before CVBT, was project manager for the Governor’s Transportation Conference, where I developed and produced an annual three-day event that hosted 1,200 people, 30+ sponsors, and 100+ exhibitors. I increased the event funding by over 500% in just three years. I liked that it was a very challenging role with lots of moving part.

CM: You also spent some time during the Sesquicentennial working with Virginia’s History Mobile. What was that like?

Heffernan-HistoryMobile 2012EH: For those who don’t know what the HistoryMobile is, the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission was created in 2006 by the General Assembly for the purpose of developing and implementing a program to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in Virginia. The Civil War HistoryMobile, which was part of that program, was an interactive Civil War museum housed in a 78’ tractor-trailer that traveled primarily throughout Virginia. I was hired as the HistoryMobile logistics manager. I also managed the DMV staff that toured with the museum.

I was mostly involved with the program’s development of operations and museum staffing. Once the program launched, I coordinated the tour schedule with the hosting locations, working closely with large tourism events, localities, and schools. I toured with the group occasionally to ensure overall operations were functioning as intended.

I really enjoyed going to schools to see the excitement it generated. Some kids might not have even fully understood the presentation, but it was still very cool to be part of what, in some cases, was the first time they were ever exposed to such an important part of their history as Americans. I also enjoyed working with the HistoryMobile staff. They were an impressive group of people that worked very cohesively together, like pieces of a puzzle, because they each brought something unique to the project.

CM: What caught your interest about Civil War history as you spent all that time attending Civil War events?

EH: Where I grew up in Michigan, the Civil War was just a chapter in a fifth grade history book, so I really didn’t start to appreciate its significance until I moved to Virginia. I have found that by living in the Fredericksburg area, you don’t even need to be a history buff to get the Civil War “vibe” and start “feeling” the history—you know what I am referring to right? Once I started working on the HistoryMobile project I found that native Virginians would frequently approach me to tell the stories of their relatives who fought in the war. I then saw just how truly personal it can be and how being in such proximity to where it all happened makes it come “alive” and seem like it happened only yesterday.

I often think of those very young boys who fought back then—the youngest soldier was only 11—and it hurts just to imagine my own 13-year-old son having to face such a fierce insurmountable challenge with little hope of surviving. My heart breaks thinking of those mothers who lost their children—in some cases even more than one—to a war with our own countrymen. Then it breaks my heart even more to think about how there are Americans today who don’t even know why that sacrifice made by those CW soldiers has afforded them the freedoms that they take so for granted.

CM: Was there a favorite HistoryMobile experience you can remember or a favorite place you visited?

HistoryMobileArlington National Cemetery 2011EH: I would have to say that the Arlington National Cemetery was the most memorable. The somber and respectful tone was very different than the many other sites we visited, such as schools and fairs, etc. It vividly represented the purpose of our mission and reminded me of how important it is to commemorate fallen soldiers. Sometimes I just can’t even wrap my head around the thought of doing what they had to do—not only risking their own lives but having to take others to survive.

My stepson has been a Marine now for about three years, and I just admire the guts it must take for him to get up each day and go to work, and I think how lucky Americans are that there are so many young men and women willing to risk their lives for ours.

Thank you, Ryan Heffernan! (I hope it’s ok to give him a shout out—he deserves it)

CM: Sure thing!


Education was obviously a key function for the HistoryMobile. Tomorrow, Elizabeth will talk about how that ties into her work with CVBT. “We are obligated to educate our children about their history,” she says.

A Conversation with CVBT’s Elizabeth Heffernan (part one)

Heffernan-CVBT(part one of three)

For Women’s History Month, we’ve been talking with several women who work in Civil War public history. This week, we’re pleased to chat with Elizabeth Heffernan, the new executive director of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT). Elizabeth joined CVBT back in December and has spent the last few months learning the ropes. Just last week, CVBT announced a new land acquisition at Spotsylvania Court House. 

Chris Mackowski: As we get started, it might be good to just offer readers a little context about CVBT. Could you tell us a little bit about the history of the organization? How is that different from the Civil War Trust?

Elizabeth Heffernan: The mission of Central Virginia Battlefields Trust is to preserve land associated with the four major campaigns in our area: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Within a 17-mile radius, this land was witness to more than 100,000 American casualties, making it the costliest battlefield area of its size. Back in 1996, a group of people, from the Fredericksburg area wanted to prevent this sacred Civil War battlefield land from being developed into shopping centers and gas stations, so they decided to form and incorporate CVBT. 

We differ from the Civil War Trust because they are a national organization designed to protect battlefield land throughout the United States with battle history from a variety of wartimes. While the Civil War Trust is still very active in preserving our local land, they are not 100% focused on it as is CVBT. We concentrate all our attention on the four Civil War battlefields of the Rappahannock River Valley and have helped save more than 1200 acres of this land.

CM: The organization’s motto is “Preserving dirt and grass.” That seems like a very explicit focus on land. Could you explain that a little bit?

EH: Because, simply put, that is what we are all about: preserving land.

There are many reasons to preserve battlefield land: it benefits our community, country, economy, and our future. For our community and economy, the tourism dollars generated alone can be significant, along with the local jobs that are created. It also serves as an amazingly convenient educational source for schools. Our country benefits because preserved battlefield land becomes a permanent memorial to commemorate the lost lives of our ancestors who died for our freedoms. As for our future, it leaves a lasting record of history for our descendants with the hope that it will not all be forgotten.

CM: You’ve been on the job for CVBT for a couple months now. What have you discovered about the organization?

EH: Many things, but what has mostly stood out to me is the dedication of the people who are involved with CVBT. They are all volunteers and invest large amounts of their spare time to this mission—some even work full time jobs and still manage to juggle in time for CVBT. I guess what is so remarkable to me is that they are not seeking a personal benefit or monetary compensation of any kind. The motivation is selfless and a simple result of their passion for battlefield preservation. If there weren’t people like this today, the sobering proof of our history would eventually vanish from our future.

CM: CVBT is concentrating on growing its membership and visibility right now. How come?

EH: We have over 3,000 names in our database, yet only 450 are active members right now. There are still many donors who support us without becoming members, and that is fine, too. We welcome both, of course, but the consistent support of the membership provides stability in gauging what funds will be available when we need them.

We have long struggled with being confused with the Civil War Trust, so it is my hope that our concentration on visibility will thwart these misconceptions and promote new interest in our cause.

CM: You mentioned “the consistent support of the membership provides stability in gauging what funds will be available.” In other words, you need to know how much money you can depend on before you can plan on what properties you can save, correct? Can you explain that a little more?

EH: Well, the properties that we are interested in saving can take years to cultivate a sale, and yet can become available at the drop of a hat with a very short window to act upon, so it is important that we have at least some predicable funding amid this very unpredictable climate of opportunities.

CM: What are some of the things the organization is doing to “promote new interest in your cause”?

EH: We have initiated an advertising campaign to gain exposure to our brand. We are placing ads in print, submitting articles to many publications, reaching out to local radio services who announce charity events, presenting our exhibit at trade shows, and of course spreading the word verbally any chance we get.

By the way, please feel free to check us out at!


Tomorrow, Elizabeth will explain what it was about CVBT that brought her to the job—and the path she took to get there.