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Local History to Come Alive with Readings

By Staff | Mar 9, 2015

Local historian Jim Surkamp has organized a series of dramatic historical readings called “Best Civil War Story-Script Reading and Music.”

As its title indicates, the three night event will feature the dramatic retellings of the stories of five local families directly impacted by the Civil War as it took shape in Jefferson County and here in Shepherdstown.

Set to music, provided by local musician Terry Tucker, the scripts Surkamp has put together are taken from the first person accounts in a more 98,000 word true narrative of the time period.

“It’s the civil war seen through the eyes of families form Jefferson County, including those who were servants or enslaved,” he said

“I call it an unprecedented history of an area,” Surkamp said.

Surkamp said the families have three things in common: terrible things happened to many of them; they could write really well about what could happened to them; all of the were friends or interrelated in some way.

At least three of the families were left homeless after their houses were burned down in war, a focus of the event.

The families featured in Surkamps script are the Bedingers, Botelers, Lees, Pendletons, and Foxxs.

The backbone of the script was taken from personal letters and diaries provided by living members of the Lee, Pendleton and Boteler families.

Surkamp, who has been researching local history for decades, said the turning point in making this project possible was being granted access to this wealth of unpublished information.

The Society of the Lees of Virginia gave Surkamp use of Netta Lee’s diary and Surkamp said he was given two gigabytes of letters and photos form the Pendletons and Botelers for use on his history web site: civilwarscholars.com.

“I was so carried away by what an amazing unknown story existed for Shepherdstown,” Surkamp said.

“I call this family and household based history.”

Surkamp said this approach takes Civil War history off the battlefield offering a more intimate perspective.

“It’s much more easy to relate to,” he said.

Each night of the event will have its own focus. Night one will be an introduction. Night two will focus of the Battle of Antietam and its aftermath. And night 3 will focus on the home burnings.

Surkamp said this event will serve as a “passport,” for residence in Shepherdstown because it sheds real light into the community’s relevance.

“This is how a community keeps its stories,” he said.

“I want people to know they’re really living somewhere,” he said.

The event will be held March 26, 27 and 28 from 7:15 to 9:30 p.m. at the Black Box Arts Center a 113 S. Princess street.

Surkamp, Homer Speaker and Ardyth Gilbertson, will all perform in the event. A reception will be held each night and living members of the featured families will be attendance for discussion. The cost of the event is $5. More information can be found by visiting the events Facebook page or by contacting the Shepherdstown Visitors Center at 304-876-2786.

Surkamp said more background on the families can be found by searching his name on Youtube for videos hes assembled called “Maybe the Best Civil War Story.”