Monday, August 31, 2009

W&M's Confederate General..... the OTHER General Lee

The College of William and Mary counts among its alumni at least two men who served as generals in the Confederate army during the Civil War. One of these men was Brig. Gen. Edwin G. Lee, who was a second cousin of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

"Edwin Gray Lee was born in Jefferson County, Virginia on May 27, 1836. He attended school in Alexandria and graduated from William and Mary College in 1852, and earned his law degree in 1859 from Washington College.

Lee is reported to have practiced law in Shepherdstown (in what is now West Virginia). He entered the Confederate Army with the Virginia Infantry, and following the Battle of Bull Run, was promoted to major and then lieutenant colonel. Lee was involved in the Seven Days battles, Second Manassas and Cedar Mountain. He was captured at Sharpsburg. Paroled on September 26, 1862, he rejoined his unit and led the Virginia Infantry at the Battle of Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862. He resigned soon thereafter due to his bad health.

When his health recovered he rejoined the Confederate cause as a colonel where he served on the staff of Gen. Robert Ransom Jr., who was in charge of the defense of Richmond. In late spring, 1864, he took up command at Staunton and with troops he recruited for the defense of the Shenandoah Valley, he fought at the Battle of Piedmont, June 5, 1864. For his efforts at Staunton, Lee was promoted to brigadier general on Sept. 23, 1864. He then served with Gen. Rosser, but his health again failing, Lee and his wife made their way to Canada where he lived in Montreal until the spring of 1866.

Lee found no cure for his persistent lung disease and he died at Yellow Sulphur Springs on Aug. 24, 1870. He was 34 years old. He is buried at Stonewall Jackson Cemetery."

[This biographical sketch was drawn from Bob Driver, "Brigider General Edwin Gray Lee," The News-Gazette, Dec. 13, 2002 and is used here with the gracious permission of The News-Gazette]

NOTE: While multiple historical sources place General Lee in Canada during the Civil War's closing months, to this day no one is exactly sure what he was doing there. The gossip at the time was that he was doing top-secret espionage work for the Confederate Government. Lee is definitely a figure who merits further study!

TRIVIA QUESTION: Brig. Gen. Edwin G. Lee was referred to as one of two W&M alumni who went on to serve as a Confederate army general. Can anyone identify the second general?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A tribute to former CNU president, Dr. John E. Anderson Jr.

This past Wednesday, Christopher Newport University lost its 3rd president, Dr. John E. Anderson Jr. (shown here), who died at the age of 77 due to complications stemming from a long illness. Anderson served as CNU's president from 1980 to 1986, and then remained at the university as a faculty member and department chair until his retirement in 2003. An Ohio native, Anderson earned his B.A. in philosophy from the University of Akron and a PhD in psychology from The Ohio State University. He taught at several colleges and served as interim president of Georgia's Columbus State University before joining CNU in 1980. He was married to Joyce Querry Anderson for 53 years and had three children as well as multiple grandchildren.

Dr. Anderson led CNU (then CNC - Christopher Newport College) during a challenging time in its history. It was still growing into its identity as an independent public college after seperating from the College of William and Mary in the mid-1970s. An economic recession at the time also froze state appropriations and severely limited CNC's abilities to expand academic and building infrastructure. However, Dr. Anderson ably led the institution through these turbulent times and did achieve key goals in spite of funding limitations, including constrution of the Science Building and a reorganization of the college's academic organizational structure.

As a CNU faculty member, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Anderson over the last couple years of his life, while he graciously assisted me in the development of my book Christopher Newport University (2009, Arcadia Publishing). Dr. Anderson was a true "character" - one of the funniest people I have ever met! I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all of his amusing stories (he was a master story-teller), and he never failed to reduce me to side-splitting laughter! He was also always blunt and to the point - calling things the way he saw them. I am honored to have had the opportunity to get to know him before his passing. While CNU is soaring under the presidency of Paul S. Trible Jr., the foundation for that growth was laid in part by those who came before him, including Dr. Anderson. Thank you, Dr. Anderson, for your service to CNU and American higher education - rest in peace.

- Sean M. Heuvel

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Interesting portrait I just discovered: This is believed to be a portrait of Massachusetts native Joshua Loring Jr. (1744-1789), who was an officer and prison administrator in the British Army during the American Revolution. Through my mother's family, he is apparently a distant cousin of mine through his mother, Mary Curtis Loring. His father (Joshua Loring Sr.) was a commodore in the British Navy during the French and Indian War and was later an adviser to Massachusetts Royal Governor Sir Thomas Gage. Joshua Loring Jr.'s wife, the highly attractive Elizabeth Lloyd Loring, apparently had a close "friendship" with General Sir William Howe, who was the top British commander in America during the Revolutionary war's early stages. Some patriots at the time jokingly claimed that Elizabeth unknowingly helped them win the war because she kept Sir William so "busy" in Boston that he couldn't focus on his work! The Lorings were later forced to leave America after the patriots gained the upper hand in the war. They later resettled in England and several of the family descendants went on to distinguished careers as captains and admirals in the British Navy. This is definitely a family I would like to research further!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Robert E. Lee's Top Secret Cave

This is a really incredible story I learned just recently. Apparently, in the early stages of the Civil War, the Confederates ran a top-secret mine in a West Virginia cave known as "Organ Cave." Under the guidance of Robert E. Lee, Confederate troops mined and processed nitre/salt peter, which is critical in the manufacturing of gun powder. Most of the processing equipment is still there. At one point, this cave provided the majority of the Confederacy's salt peter supply! Since the cave is quite large, Confederate officials also occasionally held Sunday church services in the cave, attracting hundreds of Confederate troops. Most incredibly, although Union forces were later camped on top of this cave, they had no idea that the Confederates were there mining below them. The cave was later abandoned around 1863 after its personnel were drawn away to participate in a nearby battle. The U.S. Government knew nothing about it until after the war! Shown here is a photo of the cave (photo by Valerius Tygart). For more information about the cave, go to It provides a good historical overview about the cave and information about visiting it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Revolution in My Backyard: The Battle of Green Spring (July 6, 1781)

Holding true to my blog's name "Tidewater Historian," I thought I would focus on a little known but interesting Revolutionary War battle that was fought in Williamsburg not too far from where I live. The Battle of Green Spring was fought on July 6, 1781 in the vicinity around Jamestown. It was a minor British victory on the road to their ultimate loss at the more well-known Battle of Yorktown. Shown in the image on the left is Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne, who was a top American commander at the Green Spring engagement. Below is a short narrative on the Battle from the National Park Service. I find these little-known battles around Hampton Roads to be quite fascinating and hope that us historians can shed some more light on them in the future.

"BATTLE OF GREEN SPRING. On July 4, Cornwallis broke camp at Williamsburg and moved toward Jamestown Island, the most convenient point for crossing the James. He sent some troops immediately across the river, but ordered the bulk of the army to encamp on the "Main" a little beyond Glasshouse Point, within sight of Jamestown, as a precaution in the event Lafayette should attempt to hinder the crossing.

Cornwallis was right—Lafayette did intend to strike the British at this unfavorable moment. On July 6, Wayne, commanding the American advance unit, made his way slowly toward the British encampment. Lafayette, cautious and not wanting to be deceived about the enemy strength, went with him to make personal observations. The young general quickly decided that Cornwallis was laying a trap, as indeed he was, but before he could call in his scouts and advance units, action had been joined.

The engagement at Green Spring, sometimes called the "Affair Near James Island," was a direct prelude to the struggle at Yorktown. The same forces later faced each other over the parapets on the York. Actual military victory, as at Guilford Courthouse, rested with the British. The most significant result of the encounter, however, may have been the stimulating effect on the Americans of the bravery and courage displayed by soldiers and officers alike. It was another good test of training and discipline—a detachment of American troops had confronted Cornwallis' main force and again they had fought well.

THE BRITISH MOVE TO YORKTOWN. Following the action at Green Spring, Cornwallis continued his move across the James River, and, on July 17, he was able to report by letter to Clinton that the troops which the latter had requested were about ready to sail from Portsmouth. Three days later, Cornwallis learned that all plans had been drastically changed. Clinton now instructed him to hold all of his troops and await further orders. More detailed instructions reached Cornwallis on July 21, including strong words about the necessity for holding a position on the peninsula—the area between the York and James Rivers. Clinton it seems, now thought that Yorktown was a good location for a naval station, offering protection for large and small ships—a vital necessity."

My New Blog!

Welcome to Tidewater Historian! My name is Sean Heuvel and I am a faculty member at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA, where I teach in their Department of Leadership and American Studies. I specialize in American history (Civil War), higher education studies, and leadership studies. Over the years, I have seen friends and family start up blogs to showcase personal or professional interests. As an active writer and scholar, I thought this may be a good way to share my professional activities and interests with friends, family, and interested visitors. Most of the content on this site will center around my writing/research projects and my interests in higher education, Virginia history, and the Civil War. However, I will also include content about my everyday life and times. My better half, the beautiful and vivacious Katey Cunningham Heuvel will also be featured prominently, too! Thanks in advance for your interest and support and stay tuned for regular updates!