2022 Civil War Symposium

Uncover the Civil War through firsthand accounts.


Dedicated to the theme “In Their Own Words: Soldier Stories,” the event reexamines some of the most consequential moments of America’s costliest war through the firsthand accounts of those who served. The symposium’s line-up of acclaimed historians and educators will delve into letters, journals and documents that paint vivid pictures of how everyday Soldiers viewed their military leaders, the goals of the war, and the bloody battle fought between a divided nation.

Schedule of Events

Friday, April 8, 2022

9-9:15 a.m.: Museum Director’s Welcome

9:15-10:15 a.m.: It Seemed More Than Men Could Bear – The Battle of Bentonville, with Mark Bradley, Ph.D.
The three-day Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, in March 1865, was the last large-scale battle of the Civil War and the largest engagement ever fought in North Carolina. It was, according to historian Mark L. Bradley, “the Southern Confederacy’s final hurrah.” Join Bradley for an in depth look at the battle, and the letters and diaries of the Soldiers who fought there.

Mark L. Bradley, Ph.D. is a historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History and author of “Last Stand in the Carolinas: The Battle of Bentonville.”

10:30-11:30 a.m.: Battle Brief: First Bull Run 1861, with John R. Maass, Ph.D.
Using period and modern maps and images, historian John Maass discusses the 1861 campaign and Battle of Bull Run. The campaign, which resulted in almost 5,000 combined casualties, shocked the country. It dashed expectations—North and South—of a brief war. Maass uses Soldiers’ experiences as written in letters and diaries to bring the excitement and horrors of war to life—what one Soldier at the battle called, “a perfect storm of bullets.”

John R. Maass, Ph.D. is an education staff member of the National Museum of the United States Army, and the author of several books, including “The Road to Yorktown: Jefferson, Lafayette and the British Invasion of Virginia.”

11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.: The War in Their Own Words: Document Analysis of Civil War Soldiers’ Letters, with Jennifer Dubina
Civil War Soldiers read and wrote voraciously in a time before military censorship, sharing joy, despair, anger, and loneliness with folks back home. Dive into five primary source documents with Museum educator Jennifer Dubina. Explore the lives of individual Soldiers, their home communities and the battles they experienced. Learn how historians use documents to understand history.

Jennifer Dubina is an educational specialist with the National Museum of the United States Army.

1-1:30 p.m.: Civil War Artifacts and Their Stories
Artifacts tell personal stories. The National Museum of the United States Army’s Chief Curator Paul Morando shares the Soldiers’ Stories associated with artifacts in the Museum collection, including medical instruments, weapons, personal items, and a regimental flag.

1:30-2:30 p.m.: They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, with DeAnne Blanton
While Civil War armies consisted primarily of male Soldiers, hundreds of women disguised themselves in men’s uniforms and charged into battle as Union and Confederate soldiers. DeAnne Blanton opens an often neglected chapter of Civil War history, telling the stories of women who served in the ranks, hidden as men.

DeAnne Blanton is a senior military archivist with the National Archives and Records Administration, specializing in 19th century U.S. Army records. She is the co-author of “They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War.”

2:45-3:45 p.m.: Morale at the Battle of Bristoe Station, with Robert Orrison
Drawing upon a wealth of primary sources, military historian Robert Orrison discusses the Union troops’ morale following the bloody Battle of Gettysburg and through the October 1863 Battle of Bristoe Station. In letters home and personal journals, demoralized Union Soldiers complained about President Lincoln, their generals and the state of the Army. They stood in stark comparison to the Confederates who were chasing them through Virginia, and—though they were defeated in Pennsylvania—were much more positive.

Robert Orrison has worked at several Civil War historic sites throughout his career and is currently Division Manager at Prince William County Office of Historic Preservation. Orrison also co-authored “A Want of Vigilance: The Bristoe Station Campaign, October 9–19, 1863.”

3:45-4 p.m.: Conclusion
Following the formal presentations, participants are invited to explore the Museum on their own.