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. . . .
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?