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Editor’s Letter: Salem Church

The following is the Editor’s Letter from Salem Church, Volume 30, #1

My Next Thirty Years


My late wife Robin and I started Blue & Gray soon after I turned 30 (she was 31). So, now that we’re in Vol. XXX, I’ve been editing and publishing this magazine for half my life. Robin died in 1998, from cancer, during the celebration period of our 15 years of publishing life, the midpoint of where we are today. After all that time, we can still feel her presence here at 522 Norton Road. She was indeed a larger than life character. Below is Robin at her B&G post in the mid-90s.

I got to do all the fun stuff: tramp the battlefields, take pictures, meet interesting authors and historians, and essentially turn my touring hobby into a living. Meanwhile, she got to run the business office, make advertising calls, handle circulation and fight to get us on the national newsstands.

That hardly seems fair now, because the Civil War was Robin’s hobby too. She enjoyed visiting battlefields to see where things happened, but when it came to reading about the war, she preferred to delve into the personal lives of Civil War characters. She liked to read biographies to learn the person’s likes and loves, strengths and weaknesses, and what made him or her tick, rather than study what she referred to as that “left flank right flank” stuff that Robin knew makes me tick.

So, what about my next 30 years? Country music singer Tim McGraw sang about his next 30 years, but I found no clue for my own destiny in his lyrics. He said he was going to eat more salads and drink less beer. Sorry, but nothing tops off a day of tramping battlefields better than a thick steak and a cold beer. Robin would be disappointed if I changed anything about what got us through the first 30 years.

This issue serves as a planned closing chapter to the masterful project begun by Frank O’Reilly earlier this year. His two-issue treatment of Chancellorsville as B&G’s Sesquicentennial commemorative edition for 1863 received high praise. The larger Chancellorsville story includes the related contests of Second Fredericksburg and Salem Church, subjects of this issue.
The National Park Service has done a fine job preserving and interpreting four major battles fought in this area: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. In addition, the Civil War community is fortunate to have an insider looking out for us on the local level. Our author and tour guide for this feature is Erik Nelson, Senior Planner for the City of Fredericksburg. As such, he is among the first to know when historic properties are threatened or when they become available.

The city has two projects that Erik is actively involved with. They are included in this issue’s Driving Tour. The Virginia Central Railroad Trail begins on city property and will join NPS holdings on Willis Hill. It follows the action on May 3, when John Sedgwick’s Union VI Corps attacks the famous Stone Wall and Sunken Road, and seizes Marye’s Heights and Willis Hill. This forces Jubal Early’s troops to retreat south and culminates in the Battle of Salem Church.

The other project Erik takes pride in is the Smith Run Trail, which covers ground fought over on May 4. This action is often ignored in Chancellorsville studies, a slight Erik strives to remedy. The battle starts when Jubal Early rallies his troops and drives north to retake the high ground. Robert E. Lee lends a hand, acting as corps commander, as neither James Longstreet nor Stonewall Jackson are available. For many this is new ground. I’ll let Erik take over from here.


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