Since we launched in August of 2011, ECW has grown from a small handful of writers to a community of more than 30. We’ve had some historians come and others go, but one thing has remained constant: an eclectic collection of high-quality writing, research, and scholarship. We also like to think we’ve had a lot of fun along the way, too!
To commemorate our 5,000 posts, we’ve asked our writers to share a favorite story from their time working on the blog.
Contributions are presented here in alphabetical order by author’s last name:
Edward Alexander: One cool thing is having descendants of soldiers find and comment on blog posts. This is an example. It’s also been neat to discover new research that had stumped earlier historians (who, in all fairness, did not have the same amount of access that we do today). This is an example.
Sarah Kay Bierle, managing editor: I always remember May 8, 2015, as the day my first guest post appeared on the Emerging Civil War blog. Here’s the fun fact: the editors made me re-write it about three times! And that was just the beginning of some very fine historians and authors taking a writer-wanna-be by the hand and helping her realize that when you’re writing non-fiction, all fiction must go. To paraphrase Kris White, “If you can’t cite it, get it out of here.” Meanwhile, Chris Mackowski and a few others taught me how to take the facts and weave them with truthful, powerful words to tell a completely true story in a startling, memorable way. Five years ago this month, the journey had just begun. And the best part? I’m still learning, still “emerging.” (And I still wonder if I should rewrite that first blog post.)
Doug Crenshaw: I would say my favorite moment is when Chris Mackowski asked me to see if I could locate the site of the Joe Johnston wounding. It was a real challenge, and Bobby Krick and I did some research and I believe we found the location. The most exciting pat of our work is digging to find an answer to a touch question!
Bert Dunkerly: As I look back on the articles I’ve written for the ECW blog, it struck me how this has been such a great opportunity. Like many of us, I am often deeply focused on research for a book or other big project, and don’t have time to delve into things I run across that pique my interest, or topics I’m curious about but never seem to have the time to pursue. Writing for ECW has given me the opportunity to investigate the people, places, and events that often lie beyond my normal day-to-day research. It has been immensely satisfying to expand my personal knowledge, fill gaps in my understanding, and explore topics that I’ve always been curious about.
Paige Gibbons Backus: I recently took the lead on ECW’s social media, and I love this role for several reasons. I get to read everyone’s posts and dig through the archives, and I like to look for obscure history to post onto our Instagram page. For example, did you know that ALL the convicts imprisoned in the Virginia State Penitentiary broke out when Richmond burned in 1865 and joined in the looting of the city? After order was restored, authorities were able to capture only about half of them! I look forward to turning those obscure history stories into blog articles.
Jon-Erik Gilot: I enjoyed working on my second (or third) guest post for ECW way back in August 2017, on the heels of the violence at Charlottesville. I believe ECW was running a series on Confederate monuments and I wanted to contribute in some way without pandering or inserting my opinion. In “A Monumental Controversy,” I dug into one of the earliest monument disputes, relating how a famed George Washington statue was looted from the Virginia Military Institute in June 1864 and sent to Wheeling, then capital of West Virginia, as a trophy of war.
Washington was the hallmark the local sanitary fair in July 1864 before being installed on the statehouse grounds. The statue was wildly controversial, landing some dissidents in jail and remaining a point of contention between the two states until its return to VMI in 1866, the first true olive branch from West Virginia to her mother state. The former statehouse where the disputed statue sat is just a block from my office, and since writing the essay the foundation headquartered in that building has proudly (defiantly?) displayed a miniature of the statue, marking Washington’s triumphant return to Wheeling.
Cheers to the first 5,000 posts! I’ll look forward to celebrating 10,000!
Phill Greenwalt: At one of the national parks I worked at, a fellow ranger gave me a beat-up, used copy of a book he had purchased at a garage sale, Generals at Rest, about the known grave sites of all the Confederate generals—425 to be exact. The publication was from 2001, so I got an idea: why not go check these places out and see what they looked like, and learn about some of the more obscure Confederate generals while I was at it?
So, I started the series, “Tales from the Tombstone,” about my adventures in different cemeteries and who some of these guys were. Now when I travel, I bring the book–which has since fallen apart and is now housed in a three-ring binder–to see if any graves are close by. On one trip I made the hour-long detour to see the final resting place of James Longstreet. I came close to getting locked into a cemetery in New Orleans, as well. Fun stuff.
Emerging Civil War gave me the outlet via blog posts to write about finding these resting places. I mean who does not like tramping around cemeteries in random places? (That reminds me, maybe I should restart the series….)
Meg Groeling: It was a dark and stormy night. I was diligently digging on the web for things Elmer Ellsworthy when suddenly I found Emerging Civil War. ECW was in the middle of author Robert Roper’s interview with fellow writer Rob Couteau concerning “Now the Drum of War: Walt Whitman and His Brothers in the Civil War.” I followed the blog for a day or so, then crept silently toward Chris and Kris. “You guys know who Elmer Ellsworth was? Do you need someone to write about him?” And the rest, as they say, is–literally–history.
These ECW folks have welcomed me at every turn, encouraged me, and bore with me through a career change involving getting a Masters in Military History, retiring, and then gearing up again to be a historian. At this point, 233 of the 5,000 posts are mine–that is about 5%. I think that is a commendable body of work, and I hope to continue to add to it.
Thank you to Emerging Civil War for every chance I have been given to advance my dreams. I am proud to be associated with you all.
Steward Henderson: I cannot believe that Emerging Civil War has 5000 posts—congratulations to all of our authors at Emerging civil War.
Being with Emerging Civil War since 2011 has been one of the most enjoyable experiences in my lifetime. In that year, I became an author, lecturer, living historian, and Civil War reenactor. I can remember many nights researching and writing posts and merging my experiences as an interpretive park ranger and living historian into my articles. There was also the fun and enjoyment of participating in the Emerging Civil War symposiums and American battlefield Trust Facebook Live events on the various battlefields. The comradery of authors, when we get together, seals the bonds that we have developed over the years.
I chose two favorite articles, both biographical in nature: Fredericksburg: My Favorite City (2016) and My Life as a Black Civil War Living Historian (2013). These two stand out in my mind because, in the former, I explain my love for the city of Fredericksburg and how it started my lifelong passion to study the Civil War. I often thought of me being a six-year old boy visiting the battlefield for the first time, then transition to the time that I first put on the National Park Service uniform and led my first tour.
The latter shares my experiences in the Civil War community during the first two years of the Sesquicentennial. At that point, the most moving experience that I had was my first Gettysburg Remembrance Day event! At the Gettysburg National Cemetery, the program honoring the two United States Colored Troops buried there was a very emotional and inspirational event. Our day ended with a program at the Lincoln Cemetery, honoring 30 USCT buried there. During the day, I met approximately 50 other African American Civil War living historians, many of whom have become my friends and comrades. Eventually, I will add much more to that story, as I can now add in the experiences of the many lectures and speeches that I have given about African Americans in the Civil War.
I think that the most important article that I have written has not been published yet. For the second volume of Entertaining History, I wrote an essay about the movie Glory and interviewed some of the living historians who were in the movie and other black living historians who represent the USCT. The inspirational story of the movie and those men taught me of how deeply dedicated these men are to portraying and educating the public about the still relatively unknown story of the brave men who fought for the freedom of their people. Unfortunately, two of the men I interviewed, Kevin Williams of the 23rd USCT and Marcellus Williams of the 54th Massachusetts Co. B, passed away before they could read the essay.
I have truly enjoyed working, touring, and socializing with the authors of Emerging Civil War! The co-founders, Chris Mackowski and Kris White, will forever be lifetime friends of mine, going back to 2005, when we met at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park!
Dwight Hughes: I have three wonderful ECW writing moments. 1) When my first guest post was published, 2) When I was accepted as a regular contributor, and 3) Every time my new post is posted. It’s still a thrill. After my first book come out, I was not sure what was next for a historical writing career. I needed a good platform with a friendly support group to hone my skills, get before the public, and contribute meaningfully (I hope) to the profession. The great folks at ECW provide all that in spades!
Chris Kolakowski, ECW’s chief historian: My favorite moments have been writing the appendices to Bert’s To the Bitter End and Dwight’s book on the Battle of Hampton Roads. In both cases, I wrote about things that ranged far and wide over the world, gave additional perspective to the Civil War, and were great sea stories in and of themselves. It was fun to relate those and I appreciate both of them asking me to add something to their superb scholarship.
Chris Mackowski, ECW’s editor-in-chief and co-founder: 5,000 post…wow. To quote Kris White’s wife: “Not too bad for three idiots sitting on a porch.” ECW has come a long way since that first brainstorming session Kris, Jake Struhelka, and I had that launched the site. I’ve been especially proud of the great talent ECW has nurtured over the years, the platform we’ve provided for “emerging” voices, and the many other projects that have sprung from the blog. I also think of the enduring friendships I have developed within ECW and in the wider Civil War community because of Emerging Civil War, for which I’m deeply grateful.
My thanks to all my colleagues for their hard work, and my thanks to all our readers for your ongoing support. We wouldn’t be here without you.
JoAnna McDonald: I’m still a freshmen at ECW, so I don’t have that many moments, but I’ll give it a shot.
1) The most memorable was when Chris Mackowski asked me to join the ECW’s merry band of historians.
2) Having Sarah Bierle walk me through blog uploading (twice); I like to make sure I have a co-pilot with new computer software … don’t want to hit the wrong button and have a satellite fall out of the sky (never know with computers).
Rob Orrison: I enjoy all the weekender pieces I’ve done. My passion is preservation, and getting the reader to the places where history happened is key in instilling a spirit of preservation.
The Mosby Lottery site in Rectortown was a fun post for me. For the 150th, I got to walk out into the farm field (dodged some cows) and stood on the stone rock that Mosby stood on when they pulled the numbers from the hat— cool moment that I was able to put into a blog post to encourage people to go visit the area.
Kevin Pawlak, Symposium Co-Coordinator and Editorial Board Chair: I’d always heard of the possibility that Col. Charles Tew’s corpse could be seen resting against the side of the Sunken Road in an Alexander Gardner photograph taken several days after the Battle of Antietam. For some reason, when I was on a tour of Antietam, someone asked that question of the tour guide, and I finally decided to investigate and see if it was even possible. What followed was a dive into first-hand accounts about where Tew was when he fell mortally wounded and locating where the picture was taken. As it turns out, the two did not match. Researching and writing the post (which you can read here), which made that year’s Ten Most Read Posts List, was what makes being a historian fun–the investigative process to prove, or disprove, a point.
Kristen Pawlak: My favorite memory from ECW was having the opportunity to share the story of Wilson’s Creek at the 2019 Symposium. This was my first symposium as an official contributor of Emerging Civil War and also my very first speaking engagement. Born and raised in Missouri—and having ancestors who served and fought in Missouri—I had felt that the war in Missouri was too-often overlooked in the narratives of the Civil War. Being able to share the story of Missouri’s second-largest battle and the climactic battle of the 1861 Missouri Campaign was an honor I will never forget.
Ryan Quint, book review editor: My favorite moment for ECW would be the aftermath of the 1st symposium. I joined ECW as a guest contributor in 2013 (the same summer I was an intern at FRSP), and a year later was getting ready to present about Manning Force at Atlanta. That symposium was my first conference speaking event—I had done tours before, but this would be the first academic style gig, so to speak. Just getting a chance to finally meet all the people I had heard about or only knew through email was a blast. It was a chance to network and create a friendship of like-minded people who were serious about history and the Civil War. I was still in college, but the 1-2 punch combo of being an intern and getting involved with ECW really let me know what I wanted to do with my career.
Dan Welch, Symposium Co-Coordinator: Congratulations to the writers, historians, bloggers, readers, followers, and so many others on helping us get to this milestone. For me it was a little over six years ago that I was asked to submit a few guest blog posts. I can remember being nervous, constantly editing, refining, rewriting, and ultimately rethinking after I clicked “send.” Today, I have had the honor to co-chair four of our symposiums, be on our editorial board, book review board, write a number of blog posts, co-host podcasts, record a number of Youtube videos, publish with both Savas Beatie for the ECWS and Southern Illinois University Press, and so much more all because of this cadre of historians that gave a young, emerging voice a chance—and because of you, the reader, who slogged through my many historical pontificates. Here is to another 5,000 posts of outstanding historical content!