Symposium Preview with Rob Orrison



Rob Orrison

by ECW Correspondent Jordan Vollmer

More than 100 people are already registered to attend the Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge slated for this summer. Rob Orrison, co-organizer of this year’s event, gives the credit to this year’s theme.

“Turning Points of the American Civil War” ties into the book Turning Points of the American Civil War published late last year by Emerging Civil War as part of its “Engaging the Civil War” Series with Southern Illinois University Press. The book contains essays from ten different ECW historians.

“Civil war history people love to debate,” said Orrison. “One of the biggest arguments that Civil War buffs seem to have is deciding which certain point the war became a guaranteed advantage for the North.” 

Orrison believes that this is the reason so many people are already signed up to attend the symposium on Aug. 3-5. The three-day weekend includes a speaker series with eight different authors and a different keynote speaker. (See here for the full schedule of speakers.)

Orrison wrote one of the essays in Turning Points of the American Civil War, titled “Confidence Renewed: Surviving Bull Run and the Birth of the Army of the Potomac.” The essay is about the defeat of the northern army at the battle of First Bull Run in July 1861. After the battle, the army had to totally reorganize itself under its newly appointed commander, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan.

“The army went from weak and defeated to a powerful military machine,” said Orrison. When the army became a professional organization, that was their turning point, he explained.

Orrison wrote this essay about a year and a half ago. Chris Mackowski, editor and co-founder of ECW, picked Orrison to write about the topic. “I think he wanted me to write about it because I live in Manassas, Virginia, which is in the area, and I know a lot about the battle of Bull Run,” said Orrison.

Orrison has worked in the history field for more than 20 years. He currently serves as the historic site operations supervisor for all Prince William County-owned historic sites.

Orrison’s piece is not featured in this year’s symposium mainly because he felt he already had his work cut out for him, being one of the select few who are running the event.

However, he admits that the work has been fairly easy so far with picking out the topics and getting guest speakers. “The easiest thing is getting speakers,” he said. “Civil War historians love to present and they love to get in front of a crowd and answer questions and share their theories.”

This year’s keynote speaker is Scott Hartwig. Hartwig is the former Gettysburg National Battlefield Supervisory Historian. “Scott is great,” said Orrison. “He’s worked in national parks around here for a long time. . . . It makes a difference when the person who is delivering the message is engaged and they know what they are doing.”

Orrison said the hardest part of organizing the symposium will come the week before the event. “I know something will break or happen and I’ll have to fix it,” Orrison joked.

More seriously, according to Orrison, the key to this position is staying organized. “I will say that the hardest challenge so far has just been getting everyone on the same page,” he admitted. He said it’s sometimes difficult to communicate mainly through email. This is due to the fact that ECW is so spread out, with different authors living all across the U.S. “It’s hard to explain what’s going on to other people who aren’t on the same page if you aren’t organized—you always have to know what’s happening,” he said.

Orrison has been a part of ECW for the past four years now, and has seen the symposium grow a lot since it began.

“It’s easy to see the growth in the symposium, and think that’s because it’s really aimed at the general public and people who are interested in this topic and don’t want to read a 600-page book,” Orrison said. “The point of the symposium is to essentially to get people hooked on the topic.”

As an organizer, Orrison has been able to see the event in a different light and hopes that attendees will feel appreciation for all it has to offer.

“The point of the symposium,” he said, “is for people to go in there with an open mind and learn new things so that they can continue to learn more on their own.”

Symposium Spotlight: Rea Andrew Redd

Certainly there were turning points during the war that occurred off the battlefield. Returning to a political turning point, this week’s Symposium Spotlight features Rea Andrew Redd and his preview of the 1864 election. If you still have not purchased your tickets for this year’s Symposium, Aug. 3-5, 2018, they are available to order here. They include Friday night’s reception, speakers, keynote address, and historians’ roundtable; Saturday’s line-up of talks; coffee service and lunch on Saturday; and Sunday’s tour of Stonewall Jackson’s final days.

During 1864, emancipation, reconstruction and Copperhead issues swirled throughout the North. The Republican Party’s 1860 victory had been followed by the decidedly mixed results of the 1862 mid-term elections. During the presidential campaign, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania was burned. Maryland was invaded a third time. Confederate agents used terrorism in Vermont and agents plotted to burn New York City, and other cities during the week of the election. These were attempts by Jefferson Davis to provoke from Lincoln another military draft. Even during August, Lincoln doubted that he would be re-elected. Would a George B. McClellan victory would ensure the Confederacy’s existence under the terms of an armistice? Would a Lincoln victory ensure a crushing defeat for the Confederacy? Did the doom of the Confederacy ever become obvious?

Rea Andrew Redd is a native of Washington County, Pennsylvania. He holds baccalaureate degree in history and English from Waynesburg University [1974] and a masters degree in American history from Indiana University of Pennsylvania [1976].  His Pennsylvania certification is in secondary education is from Indiana University of Pennsylvania [1982].  He holds a masters degree in Library Science from the University of Pittsburgh [1993]. Currently he is the director of Eberly Library, Waynesburg University and serves as an adjunct instructor in American history there.

He is the author of The Gettysburg Campaign Guide: A Study Guide, Volumes One [2012] & Two [2014]. His essay, ‘The Point of No Return: Turning Points Within the 1864 Presidential Election and the Doom of The Confederacy’ appears within Turning Points of the American Civil War edited by Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White [2o17] published by Southern Illinois University Press.

Rea Andrew Redd

Currently, From Altars to Amputations: Gettysburg Churches Become Battlefield Hospitals, A Walking Tour and Brief Introduction to Civil War Medicine is forthcoming in 2018.

In 2016 he received permission from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to create  a wayside memorial marker for Major Jonathan Letterman’s boyhood home in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.  Letterman was the Medical Service Director of the Army of the Potomac during 1862 and 1863. The marker was dedicated on November 11 2017.

Since 1993, Rea has reenacted the American Civil War as a Federal infantryman, a Federal Medical Service captain and as President Abraham Lincoln.

Symposium Spotlight: Matt Atkinson

Civil War historians and enthusiasts alike have always regarded the battle of Gettysburg and the Union victory there as a turning point of the war. Other campaigns and battles were happening at the same time, however. So what was the more important turning point of July 1863? This week’s symposium spotlight looks at very question with our first afternoon speaker on Saturday, August 4, 2018, Matt Atkinson.

The Gettysburg and Vicksburg Campaigns are seminal moments during the Civil War.  The two campaigns result in Union victories and set the Confederacy’s nationalistic hopes on a downward spiral.  Today, Gettysburg looms larger in the American psyche.  But which campaign had the greater impact in 1863?  Matt will explore this question and more as he looks at the importance of both campaigns.  

Matt Atkinson

Matt, who formerly worked at Vicksburg National Military Park, is a native of Mississippi—or as pronounced down south, “Missippi.” The Civil War has been his passion since he was five years old, and Matt says he considers himself lucky to make this a “living hobby.” In Matt’s private life, he enjoys living out ol’ country tunes.


Tickets for this year’s Symposium, Aug. 3-5, 2018, are available to order here. They include Friday night’s reception, speakers, keynote address, and historians’ roundtable; Saturday’s line-up of talks; coffee service and lunch on Saturday; and Sunday’s tour of Stonewall Jackson’s final days.

Symposium Spotlight: Chris Mackowski

For this year’s Sunday morning battlefield, Chris Mackowski will be leading us across the very ground where one of the biggest turning points in the Confederate war effort happened, Chancellorsville. In this week’s symposium spotlight, Chris previews his battlefield tour focusing on the death of Stonewall Jackson. Don’t forget you can still purchase your tickets for this year’s Symposium, Aug. 3-5, 2018 here. They include Friday night’s reception, speakers, keynote address, and historians’ roundtable; Saturday’s line-up of talks; coffee service and lunch on Saturday; and Sunday’s tour of Stonewall Jackson’s final days. 

“No doubt the history of America would have to be rewritten had ‘Stonewall’ Jackson lived,” said David Lloyd George, the former British Prime Minister who knew a thing or two about the fortunes of war. George had helped see Britain through the agony of World War I. On a trip to the United States in 1923, he visited the building where Jackson had died in 1863. “That old house witnessed the downfall of the Southern Confederacy,” George observed.

Indeed, one of the most popular “What If” questions Civil War buffs ask today concerns Jackson’s mortal wounding at Chancellorsville, and how the war might’ve played out differently had he lived.

Was Stonewall Jackson’s death a turning point of the American Civil War? Join historian Chris Mackowski for a Sunday morning tour that focuses on Jackson’s wounding at Chancellorsville and his last days at Guinea Station. Walk the ground to better understand the circumstances on that fateful May 2nd night, join in a discussion that explores the aftermath of his wounding, and stand in the room where Jackson crossed over the river to “rest under the shade of the trees.”

Chris Mackowski

Chris Mackowski is editor-in-chief of Emerging Civil War. With Kristopher D. White, he is co-author of The Last Days of Stonewall Jackson: The Mortal Wounding of the Confederacy’s Greatest Icon. He has also written on Jackson and his wounding for Civil War Times, America’s Civil War, and other publications. Chris has worked as a historian at both the Chancellorsville battlefield and the Jackson Shrine, and he is historian-in-residence at Stevenson Ridge. He is a writing professor in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University. You can find his full bio here.


Symposium Spotlight: Christopher Kolakowski

Welcome back to another installment of our 2018 Emerging Civil War Symposium Spotlight. Our final speaker on Saturday, August 4, will be Christopher Kolakowski. He will bridge the divide between battlefield and political turning points of the war as he examines Ulysses S. Grant, his rise to ultimate command, and how this one man became a turning point in Federal war effort. Chris has researched and written extensively on the topic. He sent along a preview of his presentation for this year’s symposium below.

On March 9, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant received promotion to Lieutenant General and designation as Commanding General of the U.S. Army. Often discussed in passing as regards the 1864 campaigns, to contemporary eyes this was a major event in the war. His leadership made a key difference in the next 13 months, and proved the wisdom of Lincoln’s choice. Kolakowski’s talk will review the reasons behind this appointment, and its effects on U.S. strategy and conduct of the war in 1864.

Christopher L. Kolakowski was born and raised in Fredericksburg, Va. He received his BA in History and Mass Communications from Emory & Henry College, and his MA in Public History from the State University of New York at Albany.

Chris Kolakowski

Chris has spent his career interpreting and preserving American military history with the National Park Service, New York State government, the Rensselaer County (NY) Historical Society, the Civil War Preservation Trust, Kentucky State Parks, and the U.S. Army. He has written and spoken on various aspects of military history and leadership from 1775 to the present. He has published two books with the History Press: The Civil War at Perryville: Battling For the Bluegrass and The Stones River and Tullahoma Campaign: This Army Does Not Retreat. Chris is a contributor to the Emerging Civil War Blog, and his study of the 1941-42 Philippine Campaign titled Last Stand on Bataan was released by McFarland in late February 2016. In September 2016 the U.S. Army published his volume on the 1862 Virginia Campaigns as part of its sesquicentennial series on the Civil War.

If you still have not purchased your tickets for this year’s Symposium, Aug. 3-5, 2018, they are available to order here. They include Friday night’s reception, speakers, keynote address, and historians’ roundtable; Saturday’s line-up of talks; coffee service and lunch on Saturday; and Sunday’s tour of Stonewall Jackson’s final days.

Symposium Spotlight: Doug Crenshaw

There is little question of Robert E. Lee’s impact on the Confederate war effort. As we welcome you back to yet another installment of the 2018 Emerging Civil War Symposium Spotlight, preview Doug Crenshaw’s talk The Rise of Lee: Richmond 1862. If you have not purchased your tickets for the Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium, you can find them, and all information about the symposium, here.

In late May 1862 the Confederacy seemed on the brink of defeat. Numerous strategic setbacks in the West were combined with the loss of most of the North Carolina coast and a significant portion of Virginia. George McClellan’s massive Army of the Potomac was at the very gates of Richmond, and he planned to bring up heavy siege artillery to drive the Confederates from the capital. This would be a catastrophic loss, as Richmond was not only the seat of government, but was also a major manufacturing center. However, in a short span of time McClellan would retreat to the James River and the Confederates would be on the offensive. While this was a major turning point in the war, it was not the only one resulting from the Seven Days Campaign. Come and join Doug Crenshaw as we walk through this amazing period.  

Doug Crenshaw

Doug Crenshaw studied history at Randolph-Macon College and the University of Richmond. A volunteer for the Richmond National Battlefield Park, he is a member of the Richmond Civil War Roundtable, and is a speaker, presenter and tour leader. His book, Fort Harrison and The Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, was nominated in the nonfiction category for a Library of Virginia Literary award. Doug has also written The Battle of Glendale: Robert E. Lee’s Lost Opportunity, and It Shall Not Be Given Up!  a survey and tour of the Seven Days campaign. He is currently working with Drew Gruber on a similar book on the Peninsula Campaign for the Emerging Civil War series.