Symposium Preview: Meg Thompson and “The Legacy of Caring”

Meg Thompson spoke at the 2014 ECW Symposium at Stevenson Ridge on the Election of 1864.
Meg Thompson spoke at the 2014 ECW Symposium at Stevenson Ridge on the Election of 1864.

Emerging Civil War will hold its second symposium August 7-9 at Stevenson Ridge.  In honor of the event, six guest speakers are scheduled to address topics relating to this year’s theme, “Civil War Legacies.” One person bringing her spunky personality to the podium is Meg Thompson, a California native and newly reinvented Civil War historian.

As a mathematics teacher at Brownell Middle School, Thompson feels as though her unique educational background provides her with unique perspectives as a historian.

“If you scratch a math teacher long enough, you’ll find a historian,” Thompson said. Several other math teachers she knows became mathematicians because they were warned there were no jobs in history “but plenty of employment in math!” 

Thompson’s unexpected interest in history arose from her researching Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth—considering that she works at E. E. Brownell Middle School. Elmer Ellsworth Brownell was an early California educator in the Gilroy area, distantly related to the Brownell who shot the man who shot Ellsworth).

Thompson’s interest in E. E. Ellsworth eventually paved the way for her to write First Fallen: The Life and Times of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth—the only biography about Ellsworth since 1960.

“I started thinking that I should find out more about E. E. Ellsworth—and I ended up writing a book,” Thompson said, who had been curious about the person her school was named after.

Also, in her research of the Civil War, Thompson inevitably stumbled upon Emerging Civil War.

“In my research, I found Emerging Civil War,” Thompson said.  “I thought, ‘I wonder if they’ve got an Ellsworth scholar—maybe they need one.’”

After speaking with editor-in-chief Chris Mackowski, Thompson’s first piece for the series was accepted and published three and a half years ago on Oct 31.  She has now written well over one hundred pieces for Emerging Civil War and continues to contribute.

Since the dawn of Thompson’s passion for history, she has returned to graduate school for a master’s degree in military history with a Civil War emphasis (she finished this summer).  Thompson plans to retire from her teaching position next year and seek work as a historian.

Also on Thompson’s agenda is her presentation for the Emerging Civil War symposium, which will focus on the “legacy of caring” during the war.

“I’m going to talk about someone I discovered, Dr. Jonathan Letterman,” Thompson said. She was researching her upcoming Emerging Civil War Series book The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead.

While Thompson admits that she found Letterman to be a boring character at first, she quickly realized how astounding a man he was during her research as she read about his reformation accomplishments.  According to Thompson, Letterman is often forgotten as one of the individuals who reformed battlefield policies.  While some know him as being the “father of battlefield medicine,” Thompson believes that this Union Medical Director, who served from July ‘62-Jan ‘64, did far much more than he is often given credit for.

“His changes brought about the modern emergency room, the ambulance, the 911 system, and medical evacuations,” Thompson said.  “In his mind was always the overriding feeling that you ask these guys to die for their country.  For having made that decision, there’s something they should expect; they should expect decent clothes, decent food, and decent health care.”

Thompson’s presentation will highlight Letterman’s legacy of caring, through his dedication to change a damaged health care system.  Thompson will discuss Letterman’s advancements on the battlefield—some of which include the institution of healthier meals for soldiers, the redesigning of soldier’s lightweight uniforms, and the installation of ambulance systems and hospitals on the battlefield.

“The topic is Legacies of the Civil War,” Thompson said.  “I am speaking about the legacy of caring.  Someone has to think about how these men eat and sleep—none of that showed up until Dr. Letterman.”

Although Thompson has already been moved by Letterman’s work, she hopes attendees are equally as impressed.

“I’d like to enlighten people as to how important Dr. Letterman was,” Thompson said.  “We can’t look at just battles and leaders.  We have to look at how health care evolved, how transportation evolved— all of those things.”


For more information about the Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge, or to register, click here.

2 Responses to Symposium Preview: Meg Thompson and “The Legacy of Caring”

  1. I have read several of Meg’s postings and can only hope her work on Dr. Letterman will be posted too.

  2. Meg did a great job at the symposium last year, talking about Lincoln’s reelection. She recently offered an updated version of that talk at a symposium at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. I’m looking forward to this new program. I’ve read some of her work on Letterman in her upcoming “Aftermath of Battle,” so I know how much she admires him and respects his work.

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