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.