In Memoriam: Meg Groeling

Emerging Civil War is sad to share the news of the death of a treasured member of our community, Meg Groeling.

In March 2021, Meg shared with ECW readers that she had been diagnosed with lymphoma. After an initial rough spell, she bounced back. “You don’t beat lymphoma,” she told me. “You live with it, and you try to manage it.” Unfortunately, her cancer made an aggressive comeback this summer, catching all of us by surprise. She died on Thursday around 9:15 a.m.

Meg came to ECW out of the blue with a guest submission posted on September 22, 2011. The post was, fittingly, related to her Civil War crush, Elmer Ellsworth. She taught middle school math at the time, but her work with ECW eventually gave her the courage to go back to school in her 60s to earn her M.A. in military history—a childhood dream her father had dissuaded her from in favor of the math degree that would ensure she got a job. Meg was ever-after grateful to ECW for helping her achieve her life-long goal of history. I’ve always counted that as one of ECW’s biggest successes.

Meg was the crazy aunt who comes to Thanksgiving dinner whom no one knows what to do with—with her purple hair, her multitude of cats, and her unquenchable tendency to find good-natured humor all sorts of random stuff. She had an unparalleled generosity of spirit. 

Meg served as a constant voice of support for women’s voices, not just at ECW but in Civil War public history in general. She loved to buoy people up. She loved Elmer Ellsworth. She loved baseball, books, and cats. She adored her husband, Robert Groeling, whom survives.

During her time at ECW, Meg wrote more than 500 blog posts, including many book reviews. Her most-read post, “War Chicken,” about Robert E. Lee’s pet chicken during the Gettysburg campaign, remains one of ECW’s most-popular posts of all time. She’s the author of the Emerging Civil War Series book The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead (Savas Beatie, 2015) and First Fallen: The Life of Elmer Ellsworth, The North’s First Civil War Hero (Savas Beatie, 2021). Most recently, she contributed an essay on Ellsworth to our new 10th Anniversary Series Book Fallen Leaders.

I’ll share my own remembrance of Meg in the next few days. To be honest, I’m still processing. In the meantime, a number of ECW’s community of historians have offered to share their own remembrances of the Megster.

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Sarah Kay Bierle:

Meg’s influence and legacy is in her genuine kindness and good intentions toward people she interacted with, whether close friends or strangers in a comment section. Through her writing,  she made readers stop and remember. She took her readers on journeys that opened history to emotion, new experiences, and big ideas. The historical figures that were dearest to her are now well remembered through her research and writing. We “Remember Ellsworth” because of her. She helped us to see the stark, haunting beauty of Whitman’s poetry. She wrote the long-time best-selling book of the ECW series, Aftermath of Battle, making people remember that the stories did not end when the battles ceased. I dare not forget “War Chicken,” (one of the most-read blog posts)! Meg wrote more than 500 blog posts and reached thousands of people with accounts, stories, and historic poetry. Her passion for her “history boys” made others care about them, too.

To me, Meg was my “grandma in the history field.” I will miss her terribly. But I’ll hold on to the memories of her enthusiasm for history and the thousands of minutes we spent on the phone or Zoom over the past eight years, pondering the complexities of history (or modern politics), thinking about how to help other women working or “emerging” in the history field, snickering over her list of “history hotties,” and misquoting Gone With The Wind or Little Women to make each other laugh. Smiling through my tears. . . .


Sheritta Bitikofer:

Meg was one of the first people to inspire me to submit guest posts to Emerging Civil War. In fact, she might have been one of the first ECWers I ever spoke to! I can’t recall the post or the year, but she sent me a personal email to respond to a comment/question I made on a post (perhaps it was hers). I thought it was monumentally cool that someone of her caliber made the effort to reach out to me. Later, I learned that this behavior wasn’t exclusive to her; all of ECW was just as friendly and personable as she was. In that moment, she represented ECW to a little nobody like me, and it meant the world.

Later, she became a great sounding board and mentor, especially when I was ready to submit my very first guest post. Stepping out of my comfort zone, I let her be the first to read my article, and I accepted all of her much-needed feedback. Since then, she cheered me on in all my historical endeavors. Her kind recommendation about American Public University also guided me to choose that institute of higher learning to finish my degree in American History (and now I only have one class left!). I’ve enjoyed our conversations and historical discussions, whether through Facebook or on the ECW Zoom calls. Her rallying cry for all women historians renewed my courage to stay on the path on multiple occasions. We rejoiced in each other’s successes and bolstered one another during our low periods of self-doubt. Though the pain and debilitation of her illness could have made her a bitter person, she remained cheerful and optimistic about what future she had left with ECW. I will miss every part of her and all of the awesomeness we had yet to witness in a life that, in my opinion, was cut too short.


Sean Michael Chick:

I never personally met Meg Groeling, but I exchanged emails and noticed her work on the ECW blog. Her comments on my blog posts were always unique. When she read a post about Isidore Francois Turgis she commented, “Will dedicate a rosary to him. Thanks for this.” She also sent me her book The Aftermath of Battle, which I used for my ongoing work on Shiloh. Tucked away in the book was of course a picture of Ellsworth. I wrote her a nice short review that I share here: “This is more a series of essays on not just burial (although that is most of the work) but also hospital care, prisoners of war, photography, and cemetery commemoration. The kaleidoscope approach, along with the accessible prose make this a great introduction to the topic.”

I did not know until recently her path to becoming a Civil War historian. I was impressed and I empathized, having also taken different paths than I planned on years ago. She was, in all my interactions, warm, helpful, and unique. We lost a scholar and a good person, and her loss will be felt hard. Thank you, Meg Groeling, for everything.


David Dixon:

Meg was a wonderful colleague and friend. I enjoyed getting to know her at Sarah Bierle’s annual west coast Civil War conferences. She was a terrific speaker who delivered insightful perspectives with intelligence and humor. She was a warm and generous person who will be missed by many in the history community. Bon voyage, dear Meg!


Jon-Erik Gilot:

I’ll remember Meg as a cheerleader, not just for ECW, but for anyone with an interest in the Civil War. She was routinely the first to share any new blog post on social media, even before our own accounts. She was gracious with kind words, encouragement, and good humor. While we never met in person, Meg was a treasured colleague and friend—and the best cheerleader.


Steward Henderson:

I remember two conversations of fond memory that I had with Meg.

In the first, she wanted to know all about the 23rd USCT and my Civil War wedding to my wife, Malanna, at Historic Salem Church.  We discussed the history of 23rd USCT and the 4th Division of the IX Corps and their history. Then she wanted to know all about how Malanna and I met, our courtship, and about the wedding.  She was happy that two old people found each other because of Civil War history and how the relationship flourished into marriage.

The second time, was just when I was just about to give a big presentation at St. George’s Episcopal Church, “War Comes to the Church.” Meg was sweltering in the hot Virginia weather but had gone on a tour of the battlefield. She complained about the heat and the bugs. Either she saw the posters about my program or she saw it mentioned on the ECW website. I told her about how the church was used in the Civil War, and she loved the details about the reactions of the soldiers and civilians to the events in Fredericksburg.

To me, Meg loved the little details about people, and she was a very happy person to talk with. She enjoyed conversation and was an easy person to speak with and get to know. I will always remember those conversations fondly.


Dwight Hughes:

I didn’t know Meg well but appreciated all her great qualities others have mentioned and valued our shared reputations as “late bloomers” welcomed by our colleagues and history family.


Frank Jastrzembski:

I never had the privilege to meet Meg in person (or most of the other ECW members), but I always appreciated the comments she left on my blog posts over the years. It shows that taking a few moments out of your day to say something nice or positive to someone can go a long way. I’m sure she impacted many others in a similar way. My thoughts and prayers are with her husband, family, and beloved pets.


Chris Kolakowski:

I was privileged to know Meg and do an appendix for her book The Aftermath of Battle. She was enthusiastic and a great booster to all of us in ECW. It was also wonderful watching her grow and develop as a historian, fulfilling lifelong ambitions. She will be missed.


Ryan Quint:

I’m terribly sorry to hear of Meg’s passing. She was one of the kindest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Meg was one of the first people who welcomed me into the fold when I joined ECW in 2013. Her kindness and exuberant joy will surely be missed.


Tim Talbott:

Unfortunately, my interactions with Meg were solely through emails and only covered the last four months or so starting when I took over the role as ECW’s book review editor. However, in just that short time and through that limited form of communication, I could immediately tell that Meg was an individual who loved reading, was passionate about history, and wanted to share that passion with others. Her enthusiastic responses to feedback were so inspirational. I feel particularly humbled by her immense kindness in bestowing to me a t-shirt (see picture) as a sign of our all-too-brief email-book review friendship.


Cecily Nelson Zander:

It’s hard to encompass someone as big and wonderful as Meg in a few lines, or a few thoughts.

Writing first, as someone who admired Meg as a friend and colleague, I am so grateful to have spent such enjoyable hours with her on our ECW Zooms, during the pandemic and beyond. She was the heart and soul of ECW Ladies Night and always came with wonderful conversation and support for all of us. She always wanted a chance to see Moe, my pup, and expressed such delight at his antics and travels. I know he would have adored her, because her kind soul extended far beyond caring for people, to wanting to support them and care for all the things they loved—books, history, dogs—and maybe moreso cats! I know her beloved kitties will miss her so very much.

Writing secondly as ECW’s current Chief Historian, one glance at Meg’s contributions to our blog mark her as one of the best among us. She read voraciously—contributing dozens of book reviews that bristled with insights and always tried to find the good in new works of scholarship. Her own writing, whether in the form of blog posts or books is, simply put, a joy to read. She wrote like Meg: joyous, clear as a bell, and full of genuine enthusiasm for her subjects and sources. History was not just her profession (her true calling) but her passion.

Our work and our world needs more Megs, which is why her absence will be so strongly felt in our community—and why I can confidently say none of us will ever forget her. How could we?

27 Responses to In Memoriam: Meg Groeling

  1. I’m very sorry to hear this news. I “met” Meg at a Civil War Talk presentation on her Elmer Ellsworth book. As a Midwesterner, I enjoy the Ellsworth history that we have here. I was very interested to hear of her degree in Military History. What a thing to do with ones retirement! I also admired how she deflected questions during the presentation because it wasn’t her area of expertise. I wish I had a chance to get to know you Meg. I’m glad we have your books and the example of how one can take a passion for history to the next level.

  2. As Meg’s publisher, I knew her fairly well from a professional working relationship. She was tireless, helpful, energetic, quirky, and lots of fun. The SB ladies loved her.

    I also got to know her and her husband Robert at the West Coast Civil War conferences, there on a friendly and less businesslike basis. Like Chris and many others, I am still processing her loss. The last I had heard she was in remission and although weak was getting better, day by day.

    Cancer is an unrelenting son of a bitch. Sadly, it took a really sweet woman and an indefatigable writer and researcher from our midst.

    As we say in Greek, “May her memory be eternal.”

  3. I made a comment once on one of her posts about a postage stamp featuring Walt Whitman. She later wrote a post apologizing for losing the email about the notification of this stamp and asking to hear from that person. I wrote another post telling her that I wrote a post about the stamp. She wrote back, “You are the one, thank you…” I loved everything that she wrote, have copies of her books. I was on a couple of zoom calls with her, she was just wonderful. This is a tough loss, my wife died of lymphoma, also. My condolences to all her many friends and relatives.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Larry. I did not know that about your wife. I’m sure Meg would’ve been the first person to offer you a hug. You’ve been a great supporter for a long time–thank you.

  4. I loved Meg and her enthusiasm and attitude. We have been praying for her recover! She was fun to be around and she loved what she was doing. Meg made a couple of videos for CWRT Congress that were popular. At her request, we planned have her do another on base ball when she started feeling better. We will all miss her.

  5. Damn…Meg made me smile a lot and laugh out loud and that was just discussing civil war dead! Though we never formally met, we spent a few years chatting often. What began as a discussion to schedule her book signing event morphed into regular friendly history talks. She truly was encouraging @ every opportunity given. Even when exasperated while writing ‘First Fallen’ she was careful not to sound discouraging. Meg generously gave of her time to me. For only a little over a year, we exchanged historic recipes and talked history and food frequently; @ one point truly bonding over blackstrap molasses. (Don’t ask, it’s a sticky subject) It seemed to me she cared a lot about a lot of things, but especially history. When I’d thank or compliment her she responded with self deprecating humor and would ask me, “You know I’m a little old fat lady with purple hair, right?” No ma’am, I never thought that. You were all kinds of a whole lot more wonderful than that (and a bag of chips!).

  6. Never met her, but sure felt like her friend thru her writing. I thank her for all of her contributions to our community and know she will be missed. Prayers with her family, RIP Meg!

  7. Surprise. Deep sadness. Contemplation of the immeasurable loss. These were all of my feelings upon encountering the unwelcome news reported by ECW today. And since others have all ready provided fitting obituaries and personal memories of Meg Groeling, it felt proper to attempt a different tack: A Review of “First Fallen.”
    What a compelling story! Anyone with an interest in Civil War History knows that Elmer Ellsworth is one of those characters that is encountered along the way, permitting just enough information to be accumulated that we think we know him and his role in the greatest upheaval since the founding of America… only to discover a record that upends our contrived appraisal, forcing us to come to grips with how wrong we were. Meg Groeling’s “First Fallen” is that record. Reaching beyond the disjointed factoids that make for great trivia questions, “First Fallen” is an engaging telling of the real Elmer Ellsworth’s story, from devoted son with an interest in all things military; to westward traveller in pursuit of a dream; to seemingly chance encounters which almost made that dream come true. And along the way, not only is the real Colonel Ellsworth revealed; but the Zouave craze, the Wide Awake movement, and associations with the likes of Abraham Lincoln, General Winfield Scott, Private Detective Allan Pinkerton, Lincoln’s secretaries, Hay and Nicolay… even Simon Bolivar Buckner: all are explained, and Ellsworth’s connection with them detailed.
    This book could have been titled: “Elmer Ellsworth: America’s Forgotten Hero.” But Meg Groeling has made certain that Colonel Ellsworth will be forgotten no more.

  8. Very sorry to hear this. She was a brave woman. I only met her once, but we corresponded and she had an insatiable interest in history. Read her book “First Fallen”.

  9. Those whom she wrote about in such endearing terms have welcomed her amidst them.

    Rest In Peace.

  10. I never met Meg Groeling. I live on a different continent.For years I had the pleasure and privilege to read her posts. She has a talent: her posts sound like letters from a friend who knows exactly what you need to read. A great person. The world can’t be the same without her. How cruel life can be!

  11. This is so sad. Meg and I met online, and bonded over being professional mathematicians with an interest in CW history. I knew she was sick, but was not expecting this so soon.

  12. This is such sad news. In the short time I knew her, Meg was incredibly supportive, and always a delight to talk with. I just wish I’d gotten to know her better.

  13. Sorry to hear of the passing of Meg! My prayers and condolences go out to her husband, family, friends, and ECW colleagues. Meg was the nicest, welcoming, and caring of the ECW community. I will miss our comradeship of her everything Ellsworth! In some weird way with all the sudden tragic sadness I’m happy for Meg! She will finally get to meet her Civil War idle hero Ellsworth. What a conversation that will be! Take care BEFF. You will be missed and the world is a better place cause you were in it!

  14. Her blog posts had high value and her blog comments were always good. I would have enjoyed meeting her. Sympathies for your deep loss to her family and her kitties, to the ECW family, her friends, and her many students who no doubt appreciate that she left this world a better place through them.

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