The Battle of Waynesboro
By Richard G. Williams, 2014, The History Press 150th Series
Richard Williams grew up in the Wayne Hill area of Waynesboro in the Shenandoah Valley, site of the last significant battle action during the Civil War. He is quite knowledgeable of the local area and even though the battlefield has been consumed by 20th Century development, Mr. Williams knows the area well enough to enable the reader to get an understanding of the battle. While the book is titled the battle of Waynesboro, it might be more accurate to say it is as much more a general history of Waynesboro in the war with ainformation on local families and homes. When we get to the battle, the narrative starts clicking, and the author does a commendable job in relaying the story of the actual battle of Waynesboro in a clear and concise manor. My main quibble with the book is that I would have liked to have seen him provide more details on the overall campaign to better place the battle in context and at least cover Sheridan’s actions immediately east of the Blue Ridge to Charlottesville. But as the author noted plainly in his introduction it is the ground of the Waynesboro battlefield that “has seeped into my bones and touched my soul.” There is also a perceptible pro-Confederate slant to the narrative, but Mr. Williams also makes it plain to readers that while he attempted to “bridle” his Southern perspective, his heritage has been both a burden and a reward for him.
Shen1864: Tell readers about your passion for the battle of Waynesboro and how it drove you to write this book:
R. Williams: Waynesboro is my hometown, as well as that of my father, my grandparents and my great-grandparents. Those roots were a large part of the motivation, along with the fact I serve on the board of our local museum, grew up on the battlefield (actually born on it) and the battle’s sesquicentennial being commemorated in 2015.
Shen1864: When you started researching the battle, tell us what you learned that surprised you and challenged your prior notions on what occurred at the battle?
R. Williams: No big surprises really, other than the family history of the Gallaher family which I found quite fascinating—especially with the patriarch of the family evidently being involved in blockade running. The Gallaher’s were one of the most prominent families in 19th century Waynesboro.
Shen1864: What are your thoughts on Jubal Early’s Generalship overall when you consider he saved Lynchburg on June 17, 1864 and kept significantly larger Federal armies tied up and defeated for the next three months and two days until his defeat at Winchester?
Overall, I believe he was a capable commander as demonstrated by earlier successes. As I point out in the book, he was at a severe disadvantage at Waynesobro for a whole host of reasons—morale, supplies and being outnumbered almost 10 to 1.
Shen1864: Tell us about your family history and how you struggled to overcome your natural southern bias that you discuss in your intro?
R. Williams: I have 3 great-great grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy. Two of them were wounded (one was wounded twice). Two of them spent time in yankee prisons. One died as a result of treatment while imprisoned at Camp Morton. Two of them served in the 51st Va which was present at the Battle of Waynesboro. As already noted, I was born and grew up on the battlefield. “Overcoming” the natural bias, in my mind, primarily involves being constantly aware of one’s bias and acknowledging it. Drawing on the diaries and accounts of soldiers from both sides presented, I believe, both perspectives.
Shen1864: Now that the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War is over, what are your thoughts on it and where do you think Civil War history is going as we head toward the 200th?
R. Williams: Good question. Unlike others, I don’t think the sesquicentennial was as successful as many of us had hoped for in remembering and commemorating. Officially, I didn’t see as much done as I would have liked to have seen. I thought it was rather subdued. So, overall I was disappointed. That’s not to dismiss the efforts of many fine organizations. But due to the current political climate, the commemorations were not embraced with the enthusiasm they should have been. But some of that is to be expected due to generational factors as well. My father knew several Confederate veterans. Few alive today could make that claim. There was a much closer personal connection at the centennial than there is today.
If you want to know where we’re headed in the next few years, just observe the recent uproar over Confederate imagery and monuments. It is nearly impossible to have a reasonable conversation over disagreements regarding perspectives and the honoring of Confederate ancestors who were, after all, still Americans. I would hope we’d be more mature about many of these topics 50 years from now. I don’t think future historians will look favorably on much of what is going on today.
Shen1864: Do you have plans to write any more books in the future and, if so, what would the topics be?
R. Williams: I do. I have several subjects I’m considering right now. One would be specifically related to post- Civil War subject matter. The other is a biography. Right now, I’m busy with some magazine articles that will be published over the next 12 months. It’s a nice break in pace.
Link to Mr. Williams’ Blog: http://oldvirginiablog.blogspot.com/