POWHATAN – The Powhatan Civil War Roundtable will gain much wider exposure later this spring when a lecture by a visiting author airs on C-SPAN3.
During the group’s meeting on Thursday, Dec. 19, keynote speaker Michael K. Shaffer gave a lecture related to the subject of his book, “In Memory of Self and Comrades: Thomas Wallace Colley's Recollections of Civil War Service in the 1st Virginia Cavalry.”
The book is based on the journals of Colley, a Confederate soldier who served in one of the most famous units of the Civil War, survived being wounded in three separate battles, and went on to live to age 81. He also talked about Shaffer’s life after the war and how his journal accounts show he likely suffered greatly from PTSD.
Shaffer, who is from Kennesaw, Georgia, said he has worked with C-SPAN before in Atlanta. Intrigued by Colley’s story, the television network contacted him when his book was published in October 2018, but previous scheduling attempts hit snags, he said.
The network contacted him about six weeks before the Powhatan event asking to attend and film the meeting at The County Seat Restaurant. The network hired Paladin Media Group out of Charlottesville to film the lecture.
“It worked out great here. The C-SPAN guys just told me it was perfect for them – the lighting, the sound, everything,” Shaffer said after the meeting.
Shaffer’s talk will air as part of a series on American History TV called “The Civil War,” which airs at 6 p.m. every Saturday night, said Jen Garrott, a producer with American History TV. Although she didn’t have an exact date, she said the program would likely air sometime in March on C-SPAN3 and then could be found in the network’s video library at https://www.c-span.org/series/?theCivilWar, where it can be watched for free.
The show airs events and lectures happening around the country, whether it is roundtables or book talks, on topics they haven’t covered before, she said.
“For this particular one, the aspect that was interesting was Civil War PTSD,” Garrott said.
Rhett Dupont, president of the local group, said he found Shaffer’s talk highly interesting as it focused on one individual rather than whole units, battles, movements, or other broad topics. It fit into the educational nonprofit’s larger mission of discussing the Civil War from a wide range of perspectives, whether it is through “remembrances of civilians, military people, slaves, or other individuals.”
He initially worried having C-SPAN filming the lecture might be at least a little disruptive, so he said he was surprised how they melted into the background so it felt like a regular meeting. He added he is happy that people outside of Powhatan will learn about the history group as well as a local gem like The County Seat Restaurant, where the group meets at 6:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month.
Lynn Whitmer, who does communications for the roundtable, said he has been part of the nonprofit for about a year and appreciates that the group doesn’t “choose a side” but instead tries to look at the various aspects of the Civil War and what both did during the war without bias. He added he is always surprised at the caliber of guests like Shaffer who come to speak to the group.
“The people they bring in, whether it’s park service or noted authors, they are just incredibly passionate and there is always so much to be learned,” he said.
At the beginning of his talk, Shaffer recounted how he went to speak at the 150th anniversary of Washington Chapel United Methodist Church in July 2016. When he arrived early, a woman showed him seven journals written by Colley, who was her great-grandfather, about his time with the 1st Virginia Cavalry and his post-war life.
“I thought I was going to fall over in the parking lot, because as a historian, you dream about things like that,” Shaffer said.
By reading the journals, Shaffer learned how Colley served in the 1st Virginia Cavalry with many well-known Confederate figures, including J.E.B. Stuart, William E. “Grumble” Jones, Fitzhugh Lee, and John Singleton Mosby, who was born in Powhatan County.
The key engagements in which Colley fought were 1st Manassas/Bull Run; Peninsula Campaign; Waterloo Bridge (wounded first time); Seven Days Campaign; Antietam; Kelly’s Ford (wounded second time); Blountville, Tennessee; Wilson’s Wharf, and Haw’s Shop (wounded third time).
While Colley’s first injury was to the foot and didn’t stop him from fighting, his second saw him left for dead at Kelly’s Ford, saved by a Union soldier, and surviving against all odds. After a long convalescence, he eventually returned to battle and fought in a few more major battles before he was severely wounded at Haw’s Shop and had his foot amputated. After the war, Colley “was drunk 24 hours a day. He had a very violent temper. He was withdrawn from society. And oh by the way, while he was drunk 24 hours a day, he was serving as deputy sheriff of (Washington) County,” Shaffer said.
“Tom was battling the demons of PTSD,” he said.
Colley’s life changed when he married his wife, Ann Eliza, with whom he had 12 children (eight survived past infancy). She got him to give up drinking and he eventually became a leading member of their community, although their life had plenty of ups and downs, especially financially. Shaffer also talked about Colley’s willingness later in life to attend reunions with fellow soldiers, and his commitment to writing many of their obituaries after they died.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.