MARCH 2014, Page 13
VMI Institute Report
Jackson Symposium Moves to May
The Stonewall Jackson Symposium will return to
Lexington for its 15th meeting in May, but this time things
are going to be a little bit different.
The biennial symposium, dedicated to the life and
career of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson,
will feature its usual cast of prestigious speakers, but
this year, both the site and the date have changed. The
conference will be held entirely on the Virginia Military
Institute post, the first time that has ever happened, and it
has swapped its traditional April run for a May showing.
The most recent symposium, held in 2012, was the first
to take place after the Stonewall Jackson House became
part of the VMI Museum System, and only its opening ceremonies were
held on post. This go around, all conference sessions will be held at VMI,
with most of the activities taking place in Marshall Hall, the location of
VMI’s Center for Leadership and Ethics.
“Our version of the symposium that year was the Friday night lecture
and then a battlefield tour,” said Michael Anne Lynn, the site director
of the Jackson House. “This is the first time we’ve done a full-blown
symposium since the Jackson House became part of VMI.”
The conference will also have a later starting date. Usually slated for
April, this year’s symposium is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend.
The conference will run from Friday, May 23, to Sunday, May 25.
“We had to identify a time when we could get the facilities at VMI,”
said Lynn. “With VMI’s busy academic calendar, and all of the activities
going on, the first time we could get the [Marshall Hall]
facilities was after graduation. Turned out Memorial Day
was the best time we could identify. I think it’s likely to work
well simply because it’s a time people think about taking
time off and doing something special.”
And there are plenty of special activities planned for this
year’s symposium. The weekend will be dotted with tours,
including one of the Stonewall Jackson House, the Maury
House, and the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery for those who
plan on staying around for the entire weekend. Symposium
organizers will also be offering a look at cadet life with
Scott Risser ’78, who will meet participants at barracks
and explain the unique VMI experience.
“One of the things that happens when people visit VMI is they are
hungry to learn more about VMI,” said Lynn.
Lunch and dinner will be served Saturday, along with a reception
Saturday night, and, of course, the list of speakers is sure to impress.
“Everybody on the program is somebody, in my mind, worth hearing,”
Lynn said. “Everybody who is on the program is somebody who cares
about the subject matter. They understand the audience.”
The audience is not exactly what one would expect at an academic
symposium. It is not simply a group of college professors getting together
to discuss scholarly minutiae; instead, those who attend, many every
year since the first symposium, are laypeople who are truly interested
in learning more about a truly interesting man.
Program to Explore Jackson’s Contributions
The list of speakers at the 15th Stonewall Jackson Symposium, which
is sponsored by the Stonewall Jackson House and will be held on the VMI
post May 23-25, includes alumni historians and other noted scholars.
Led by a pair of VMI graduates, the group of six Civil War experts will
address a variety of topics that explore the life and career of Gen. Thomas
Leading the parade of speakers will be John W. Knapp ’54. The VMI
superintendent emeritus will open the event Friday night in Jackson
Memorial Hall with a welcoming address focusing Jackson the professor.
“Friday night will be open to the public free of charge,” said Michael
Anne Lynn, Jackson House site director. “We’ve been running this
symposium since 1986, [and] we decided back then that this was an
opportunity to have a little thank you to the community.”
Saturday’s agenda will begin with Stephen Lee Ritchie’s “Jackson
and Ashby: Partners in Command,” an exploration of the sometimes
tumultuous relationship between Jackson and Gen. Turner Ashby. Ritchie,
a staff historian for the Civil War Education Association, has also served
the last 15 years as the historian for the Civil War Institute at Shenandoah
University. He was the recipient of the Dr. William Woods Hassler Award
for Civil War Studies last year.
Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. John W. “Jack” Mountcastle ’65 currently
teaches Civil War history classes at the University of Richmond and is a
lecturer for the Virginia Historical Society. Mountcastle retired from the
Army in 1998, after serving for four years as the Army chief of military
history in Washington, D.C. At the symposium this year, his presentation,
“Who Won the Battle of Green Mountain?” will explore the question of
whether the Confederates won that battle because of Jackson or in spite
Mountcastle will be followed by Jeffry W. Wert, who will continue to
examine Jackson’s prowess in battle, focusing on the general’s roles as
leader, tactician, and inspirational figure. Wert has written several books
on the Civil War, and his
Gettysburg – Day Three
was nominated for a
Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.
Robert K. Krick is the author of 16 books on the Civil War, including
several with Jackson as the central theme, and he will be the first speaker
after a break for lunch and tours. His contribution to the symposium
will focus on “Stonewall Jackson’s Failed Protégés,” an exploration of
how several of Jackson’s handpicked subordinates turned out to be utter
James I. Robertson Jr., an Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus
at Virginia Tech, will close the program Saturday night with “The Death
and Birth of a Legend.” Robertson has written more than 20 books,
including a comprehensive biography of Jackson.
Bringing in such noted speakers is extremely important, Lynn noted,
especially for a museum like the Stonewall Jackson House, which focuses
on only one subject.
“Essentially, you are telling the same story [over and over again],” she
said. “I think it is really important, if you are going to keep your story
alive and for your intellectual revitalization, that you stay connected with
the people who are doing the research, who are writing,” said Lynn. “One
way to do that was for us to put together an event that brought students
and scholars of Jackson together. I look forward to it from year to year.”
Please see page 20