The Best of 2011 (Steward Henderson)

As our authors continue to offer their favorite Civil War-related memories from 2011, we next hear from Steward Henderson.

The year 2011 has been my best and most exciting year as a Civil War historian!

The year began with John Cummings III and I co-founding the 23rd Regiment United States Colored Troops. We have participated in many Civil War events in our very first year, and I presented several Civil War talks at various venues. I teamed up with John Hennessy, the chief historian of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Park, to present three programs about slavery in the Fredericksburg area. Working with Chris Mackowski and Kristopher White, I have become an author with Emerging Civil War. Finally, I have given many tours of the battlefields at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House.

There were three events that I was extremely proud of this year. One was a slavery tour given to a group of three African American churches in Fredericksburg during Black History Month. John Hennessy and I gave a “Slavery and Slave Places” trolley tour around Fredericksburg for Shiloh Old Site, Shiloh New Site, and Mt. Zion Baptist churches. We each gave talks on the the two trolleys, and then spoke to the combined group at the site of “The Crossing,” where 10,000 slaves crossed the Rappahannock River to freedom between April to August 1862. The most important part of the tour was when we had an hour-long question and answer period after the tour. The participants were surprised at how honestly we described the causes of the Civil War. John and I were surprised because these participants thought that we would get in trouble with the National Park Service for discussing the “real” facts about the War.

The second event was an event sponsored by the 23rd USCT and the John J. Wright Museum, featuring a talk by John Hennessy entitled “Rappahannock Exodus: the 1862 Flight to Freedom and Beyond.” We presented to an audience that was made up of approximately half white and half black attendees. Again, the question-and-answer period provoked a very insightful discussion into the slavery, the Civil War, and the meaning of the Confederate flag. This was a discussion where each person asking his or her question was given time to not only ask their question but also give their opinions of the questioned topic. This event has inspired the John J. Wright Museum to sponsor at least one of these type of events every year during the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

Finally, the participation of the 23rd in three of the Gettysburg Remembrance events was truly an inspiring day for me. I will post my memories of that day in an upcoming post here for Emerging Civil War. Gettysburg has always been my favorite battlefield, and I have visited the battlefield about eighteen times in my life. The most memorable visits were my first—when I was 8 years old, and that visit solidified my wanting to be a Civil War buff—and my most recent, November 19, 2011, when I marched in the parade in my blue uniform. Thousands of Civil War soldier and civilian reenactors on this great battlefield socialized with each other and with the people who came to watch in a friendly and respectful manner. I was touched by how many of the people came up to me and my comrades to thank us for keeping the memories of these soldiers alive. To me it showed how far that we as a nation have come together in the past 150 years!

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