Emerging Civil War has selected Dr. Gary W. Gallagher as the 2021 recipient of the Emerging Civil War Award for Service in the Field of Civil War Public History.
The award recognizes the work of an individual or organization that has made a significant impact on the field of public history in a way that better helps the general public connect with America’s defining event.
Dr. Gallagher accepted the award in person on Friday evening at the Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge. For remarks from the presentation, along with a look at Dr. Gallagher’s extensive bio, read on!
From award presenter Chris Mackowski:
I think it is fair to say there would be no Emerging Civil War without Gary W. Gallagher.
It’s true, there is no direct trail of bread crumbs that leads from Gary to this 10th Anniversary celebration of ECW. . . .
But there is not a one of us who has not been inspired by Gary or touched by his work. And I bet that is true for every single one of us in this room. Let’s see a show of hands.
We have read his books and seen him on TV and heard him speak and been on tours….
He’s been ubiquitous in the field for decades, so he’s that Civil War guy we all know, even if we don’t actually know him.
I didn’t actually meet him for the first time until last year when I had the privilege to interview him about his newest book, The Enduring Civil War. He could not have been more gracious, or friendlier, or more fun to talk to. By the time we finished, I felt like we were old friends.
But just because we all know who Gary is, I want to take a moment to share his bio with you, because it might otherwise be easy to take this for granted because, Of course he’s Gary Gallagher.
Gary W. Gallagher retired in June 2018 as the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War and Director of the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia.
A native of Los Angeles, California, he received his B.A. from Adams State College of Colorado (1972) and his M.A. (1977) and Ph.D. (1982) from the University of Texas at Austin.
An archivist at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library for ten years, he began his academic career in 1986 at Penn State University, where he taught for twelve years and headed the Department of History for five. He joined the faculty of the University of Virginia in 1998.
He is the author or editor of more than forty books, most recently The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis from Louisiana State University Press. He has served as editor of three book series at the University of North Carolina Press:
- “Civil War America,” with more than 115 titles
- “Military Campaigns of the Civil War,” 10 titles
- “The Littlefield History of the Civil War Era,” 15 titles
He appeared regularly on the Arts and Entertainment Network’s series “Civil War Journal” as well as participating in more than five dozen other television projects in the field.
Among his many awards, he is the recipient of the Cavaliers’ Distinguished Teaching Professorship for 2010-2012 (the highest teaching award conveyed by the University of Virginia) and the Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in 2013.
Active in the field of historic preservation, he was president from 1987 to mid-1994 of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites, an organization with a membership of more than 12,500 representing all 50 states.
He also served as a member of the Board of the Civil War Trust and has given testimony about preservation before Congressional committees on several occasions.
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I asked my ECW colleagues to share some of their thoughts about Gary’s impact on the field. Chris Hiesey summed it up well:
I can think of no other Civil War historian and writer who has impacted me more than Dr. Gallagher. I walked a good many battlefields with him way back when he led great field studies for Penn State and various other organizations. Standing on top of Nicodemus Heights on a balmy November at Antietam goes down as one of my favorite days on any Civil War battlefield.
His dozens of books authored—co-authored and edited—have profoundly enhanced my knowledge of the Civil War. I simply would not know what I know without his decades’ worth of scholarship.
Finally, his work in the pioneering days of battlefield preservation are the reason the American Battlefield Trust and many smaller Friends and preservation groups have been so successful with saving threatened hallowed grounds for us and future generations to appreciate. If George Washington aptly earned the moniker “indispensable,” I think Gary Gallagher has earned that modern sobriquet in the field of Civil War studies for certain.
Like many of us, Frank Jastrzembski fondly recalls “watching Gary on the History Channel growing up. Gary, alongside James McPherson, Bud Robertson, Paul Hutton, Henry W. Brands, and others were, and will always remain, an inspiration to me.”
He was, as many of us can attest, “the face” of the Civil War.
But his work behind the scenes has been just as important. As Bert Dunkerly says, “Gary has always been helpful and enthusiastic about sharing research. He cares about all aspects of the history field: research, preservation, publications, and has always worked to advance the field on all fronts.”
I appreciated this story from Sarah Kay Bierle from her days just starting out:
I will never forget Dr. Gallagher’s kindness when I first met him at the 2015 Civil War Conference at The Huntington. We were talking about Shenandoah Valley history, and I said something about ‘Staunton’—but I pronounced it as it’s spelled, with an ‘aw’ sound. He quickly interrupted and very graciously told me the correct pronunciation with the ‘an’ sound—“Stanton,” not “Staunton,”—adding with a smile, ‘Say it correctly and they won’t know you’re from California.’ I appreciate Dr. Gallagher’s approachableness, the brief conversations we’ve had at two Huntington conferences, and his research and presentations. The way he took time to talk with a nervous girl trying to make her way into the history field made a big, inspiring impact and the pronunciation correction set me up for success in Shenandoah Valley research later on.
And Sarah made a point to add, “Thank you.”
I can think of no better testament to Gary, though, than to share the words of one of his former students, Cecily Nelson Zander. She is one of the countless young historians whose lives he has touched through his inspired teaching and thoughtful mentoring. For those of us who teach, this is why we do what we do. Here’s what Cecily says:
I would never have believed I could be a historian without Gary Gallagher. As an undergraduate in his courses at the University of Virginia I had a front-row seat to a teacher who engaged students to a degree that few academics are capable of reaching. In seminars and lecture courses, Dr. Gallagher emphasized the importance of understanding the past as people at the time experienced it and spoke often of an adage passed down to him by his own graduate professor, Barnes F. Lathrop — “Go where the evidence leads and you’ll be fine.” He practices what he preaches, and I know audiences appreciate his forthrightness in tackling difficult subjects by presenting evidence, rather than opinions.
Dr. Gallagher’s ability to communicate his deep knowledge of the Civil War era with verve and humor is what makes him an exceptional teacher and public historian. I have watched him captivate many crowds over the course of nearly a decade of knowing him, and often noted his graciousness in answering every question asked of him, even if they continued for an hour after his allotted speaking time.
His public programs and efforts in the realm of battlefield preservation insure that his legacy will stretch far beyond the thousands of students he taught at Penn State and UVA, or the hundreds of books he has written and edited. The field of Civil War history would be a far poorer place without Gary’s presence—and I’m grateful that he fell in love with the subject as a young boy in rural Colorado, and that he has worked tirelessly to share that passion with others for the last five decades.
Ladies and gentleman, I am privileged to present the Emerging Civil War Award for Service in Civil War Public History to Dr. Gary W. Gallagher.
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For a list of previous recipients of ECW’s Award for Service in Civil War Public History, click here.