Robert K. Krick, Chronicler of Robert E. Lee’s Army


Robert Krick worked for 31 years as the chief historian at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park and is a renowned expert on the Army of Northern Virginia Interview by Kim A. O’Connell

How did a California kid get so interested in the Army of Northern Virginia?
I have no Confederate propinquity of any kind, no ancestors. I was given a copy of Douglas Southall Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants by my aunt for Christmas when I was 11 or 12 years old. Here I was, a kid growing up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a hell of a long way from the Blue Ridge. And Freeman just made these people seem evocative and fascinating.
I’ve spent my whole life writing about these folks and saving the ground they fought on. It’s been almost unbelievably rewarding to have that chance. My chum Gary Gallagher had almost the same experience; at 8,000 feet in Colorado in the Four Corners area, his grandma gave him Lee’s Lieutenants when he was 10 or 11. Freeman just made these people come alive.

How does the Walmart proposed near the Wilderness battlefield concern you?
Walmart would be the epicenter of a commercial development explosion that would put tremendous pressure on the Wilder­ness battlefield. We need to deflect the development a little farther north. They should go somewhere else—not far away, necessarily, just a mile up the road—and it would alleviate almost all these concerns.
There’s a parallel here to the Disney park that was proposed near Manassas [in the 1990s]. That park was not on the heart of the battlefield, but it would have unquestionably brought incredible pressure to bear that would have vitiated the battlefield and reduced its viability. But it was successfully defeated. Everyone involved has to strive to get Walmart to do the right thing.

Can you speak about the preservation challenges around Richmond?
The Richmond battlefields, until fairly recently, had very, very little land base. It’s been outside preservation groups, all of which deserve a lot of credit—the Civil War Preservation Trust, the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, the Richmond Battlefields Association, the local and national groups—that have stepped in.
I would say the most important single tract in North America for battlefield preservation is in Richmond, where the heart of the Federal line at Gaines’ Mill is on the same tract of property where, at a 90-degree different angle, two years later the Battle of Cold Harbor was fought. When that land comes on the market, all of us who care about the Civil War and about preservation have got to get that done. They really do.

You’re working on two books. Tell us about them.
One book I was working on is out, Civil War Weather in Virginia, by the University of Alabama Press. The book about “Stonewall” Jackson’s march and flank attack [at Chancellorsville] is my long-term project. The book I’m working on now will be 10 chapters, each of them biographical, about 10 Confederate general officers in the Army of Northern Virginia—including Joseph B. Kershaw, Cadmus Wilcox, William Barksdale and Charles Field—who are either important or interesting to me, or both, but who have never been the focus
of any really serious scholarly research.

Why is it important for people to learn about Lee, Jackson and other Confederate leaders?
The whole question of Civil War preservation fits into the larger question of historic preservation of every kind. We need to preserve the benchmarks, the starting points, for everything that happened in this country, and the Civil War was certainly among the most seminal events in all the history of North America.
Preserving the land where these people fought will allow future generations a chance to decide what they want to about them, to see where great things were done. One doesn’t have to admire this side or that side, this fellow or that fellow, this unit or that unit, although a great many people do all of those things. We all need to make very sure that this ground that was hallowed by the blood of these people, North and South, is saved.

7 Responses

  1. james bias

    I am trying to reach Robert Krick about a talk he recently gave on c-span.
    about 37 minutes in he briefly mentions that Roswell Ripley served in china after the war as a general.
    I have searched around and even ask someone at a historical society named after him and no one there knows about this.
    I found he did leave the US for 20 or so years but as far as I can tell he was in england.
    I would have emailed Robert Krick myself but I am unable to find an email for him. Can you either forward this to him or provide me with his contact info?

  2. Rob Kuz

    Did you ever finish the book about the 10 officers in Lee’s Army Of No Va.?What is the title?

  3. Mark Haselberger

    Hello Mr. Krick, we have met but I doubt you remember me. I have a question for you; in Four Brothers In Blue, by Robert G. Carter, published in 1913, and reprinted in 1999; it claims Stonewall Jackson was shot by men of the 1st Massachusetts. If so, did the 1st Massachusetts use .69 caliber bullets? Granted, its a bit of speculation but, couldn’t Jackson have been fired into by both the 1st Massachusetts, and then the Confederates? I would greatly appreciate hearing your thoughts on this subject. Yours Confederately, Mark Haselberger.

  4. Thomas E. Allen, Capt USNR Ret

    My grandfather, Bgn Thomas Scott Allen was a Civil War hero from Wisconsin. He died in 1905 so I never met him but in 1863 his 5th Wisconsin took Fredericksburg and he has a report in the local newspaper that he gave advice to Geneal Hooker that was ignored. I have all the detail in my family records but need an author to write them up for the current magazines. Would you have any suggestions? By the way, I am a member of the Puget Sound Civil War Round Table and give a talk a number of years ago on my grandfather and that Fredericksburg changed hand five times during the Civil War. Tomorrow I am introducing Dr. Alfred Runte at my Rotary Club

  5. Joe Newton

    Several years ago, I wrote you about my great-grandfather and you kindly took the time to answer my question about Charles Ryland Pollard, who was a member of the 30th Virginia Infantry, Corse’s Brigade, Pickett’s Division. Some years earlier, I had read your history of that regiment, and recall your mentioning that if any further information about one of its members turned up, you would like to know about it. Entirely as a matter of serendipity, my son found Mr. Pollard’s uniform in a small museum operated then (2007) by the UDC. In a visit there, the ladies furnished me with further information about him. It seems the uniform was given to the museum by Mr. Pollard’s son, J. Robert Pollard, in about 1957. I believe I have a copy of it in my scanner and will be happy to email you a copy if you would like it. Aside from providing much more information than I had known about my relative’s war experiences, it also gives his rank as Lieutenant. Prior to that, I only had seen him referred to as an adjutant. In any case, I hope this finds you and your family well. If you expect to be on C-SPAN or any similar program in the near future, would like to know about it. I saw a comment above that you were planning a book on Chancellorsville. I am now re-reading Robert G. Tanner’s “Stonewall in the Valley” (2d edition) and would be most happy to see your take on Chancellorsville. Would also be most happy if the funds could found to make a good movie version of Jeff Schaara’s “The Last Full Measure” but last email I had from him indicated things not hopeful and that front. In any case, need to get the old bones home so will say adieu for now. God bless.

  6. Jake Herson

    Hello Mr. Krick,
    I wonder if we could communicate about a piece I am writing on the Seven Days. I ask having read your introduction to Clifford Dowdey’s book and essay on Whiting’s attack.
    Being an original east coaster now in San Francisco I was pleasantly surprised to note you are from CA and see a picture of you wearing a Giants cap.

  7. Jake Herson

    Apologies for my confusion between your essay “Sleepless in the Saddle” and Mr. R.E.L. Krick’s essay on Whiting’s attack.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.