For this week’s Community Conversations, our host ST Billingsley spoke with Chris Mackowski, a professor at St. Bonaventure University, and a member of the organization Emerging Civil War.
Q: Tell me a little about yourself and how you got involved with this organization.
A: Well, I’m a college professor by day, at a school in western New York, and I drive back and forth from there to Fredericksburg each week, and in Fredericksburg I’ve done some work with the National Park Service about 12 years, doing [guided] tours at all of the battlefields in that area, and also I’m historian resident at a historic property called Stevenson Ridge, which is on the edge of the Spotsylvania Battlefield. I’m also a member of the Emerging Civil War Organization.
Q: What do you do with that, or what does that organization do?
A: There are about 25 historians who all contribute to this collectively on a blog [called] emergingcivilwar.com. [There is] free content every day, usually three or four posts. The historians are public historians, out there giving tours every day, or out there meeting the public. And our overall mission is to help people connect with the Civil War.
It’s America’s great story, and we want people to be involved and invested with it.
Q: So what are some of the preservation opportunities in Prince William County that you see?
A: Well, of course, central Virginia in general was the crucible of the Civil War in the east, and Prince William County particular, the armies are moving back and forth continually, basically, for the first three years of the war.
So [in] Prince William County there’s a tremendous amount of Civil War history because of those armies moving through here, because they were fighting through here, because soldiers and civilians were based here. So all sorts of opportunities for people to understand the story.
Q: And, well with all that going on here, what — what do you say it was one of our pressing issues with the Civil War and places that we need to be aware of?
A: In fact, the county right now is trying to do some master planning with the Bristol Station Battlefield. Only about ten percent of the actual battlefield has been preserved.
There’s opportunity to protect more of it. In fact, two battles were fought in that area: Kettle Run in August of 1862, and then the Bristol Station Battle itself, which was in the fall of 1863. Because of population concerns, development growth, of all sorts of uses of the ground around here, there are a lot of competing interests, and so the county is really trying to make an effort to say how do we balance all of those issues? How do we get people to have a conversation rather than just arguments about the best way to use the ground?
So there is a chance to save some history. There’s a chance use some history. There’s a chance to cultivate heritage tourism, but there’s also the reality that people have to live here, they have to work here, they have to shop here, so the county is trying to have that conversation. I think it’s a really important one.
Q: So are there any other organizations that you work within the county to help accomplish this?
A: Well certainly. Prince William County’s Office of Historic Preservation and they’ve got an entire office, an entire division, that’s devoted to the many different historic sites here in town.
That includes the historic, that includes the process of the battlefield, but it also includes a number of the historic homes, a couple parks. So it’s a very vibrant historic infrastructure here in the county.
Q: So people like to get more information about your organization they go to your website, and if you could go ahead and talk about just real quick about your website of what they can find on it.
A: Sure the website again is www.emergingcivilwar.com. And as I said, there’s content up there every day from a variety of different historians, with a variety of different backgrounds, talking about a variety of different things.
So what I love about [it is] this like kind of a hodge-podge cornucopia of stuff. One of the stories that we’re following right now is the development and master planning that’s involved with the Bristol Station Battlefield. A lot of other preservation issues as well, but then there’s just a lot of great stories about Civil War history that people really find engaging.
Check back for the next episode of Community Conversations.