Shepherd organizes historic holiday event
Shepherdstown will step back in time during the second annual A Civil War Christmas in Shepherdstown organized by the Shepherd University Department of History, the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, and Shepherdstown Visitors Center. The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place Dec. 3-5.
A Civil War Christmas in Shepherdstown aims to give students practical experience interpreting history and to give the public the opportunity to learn what the holidays were like both in Shepherdstown and beyond during the war. Dr. Julia Sandy, associate professor of history, said 18 students in her Introduction to Public History class and members of the history honor society will conduct walking tours of the town and give tours of the Conrad Shindler House, which houses the George Tyler Moore Center.
Sandy said the students will also demonstrate 19th-century toys, convey what childhood was like during that time, and reenact how citizens in the town would have celebrated the holidays.
“They are creating a living history reenactment of a party in Shepherdstown including a shadow play that uses Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem ‘Christmas Bells,’ which was written toward the end of the war. It was kind of a pacifist poem,” Sandy said. “They’re using that poem in their shadow play and are acting out different scenes from Shepherdstown during the Civil War.”
A shadow play tells a story by using cut out puppet figures that a puppeteer holds between a light and a translucent screen. Sandy said participating in an event like this gives the students good experience.
“They have done all the research and have written their demonstrations and walking tour scripts,” she said. “The walking tour students have researched the architecture of the buildings and the history of the town. The living history students have researched shadow plays and what Christmas was like.”
This year the C&O Canal National Historic Park will participate by offering a program at Ferry Hill that will include the shadow play and an opportunity for children to make Christmas tree ornaments.
“The ornaments will be traditional German straw ornaments, which would have been used at the time,” said Marianne Davis, co-director, Shepherdstown Visitors Center.
Davis said Union troops will occupy the town, and refugees will be encamped on the grounds of McMurran Hall.
“These are people visitors can talk to who will give them a different perspective on the conflict,” Davis said. “There were a lot of people who were displaced by the conflict. Also certainly late in the war there were stragglers just trying to get by. Many of these people would raid houses and take everything they could. There were women who were alone and particularly vulnerable. So in this case we’re going to have some women and children who are seeking shelter from the storm, as it were.”
Also new this year, the George Tyler Moore Civil War center will host the Shepherdstown Living History Association, which will construct a winter quarters in the backyard. Dr. Jim Broomall, center director, said members of the association plan to put finishing touches on the shelter on Friday afternoon.
“This is what a soldier’s home probably looked like between the months of November and March every year of the war,” Broomall said. “These conditions were adequate certainly, but they were spartan, they were uncomfortable and it’s very much going to show what the soldiers’ Christmas looked like.”
Broomall said on one hand soldiers took great pride in the winter shelters they constructed, but on the other hand they endured a great deal of misery because of the less than ideal conditions in those structures.
In addition to hands-on activities and historic tours, A Civil War Christmas in Shepherdstown will offer four scholarly events that will cover topics such as how the war was represented and portrayed throughout the Shenandoah Valley, depression among soldiers who were away from their families during the holiday season, African American history, and the formation of West Virginia during the war. Broomall said one goal of the program is to explore the civilian experience, the military experience, and how race relations impacted events.
“I think these elements can’t be separated from one another when you’re talking about the Civil War,” Broomall said. “It’s not primarily a military event. It’s also an event about emancipation, about freedom, about refugees, about suffering, and about civilian populations. So those things need to be entwined.”
The schedule for Civil War Christmas in Shepherdstown is:
Thursday, Dec. 3
6:15 p.m.-Village Brass Quintet, 19th-century music of the Civil War and of the season, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, 100 West Washington St.
7 p.m.-Lecture “To Remind Me of Old Times: Reflections on Christmas in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War” by Jonathan Noyalas, assistant professor of history and director of the Center for Civil War History at Lord Fairfax Community College, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church.
Friday, Dec. 4
4:30 p.m.-Completion of Union winter encampment and firing demonstration, George Tyler Moore Center, 136 West German St.
6 p.m.-Lecture “‘A pang of bitter remembrances in every breast’: The Soldiers’ Civil War Christmas” by Dr. James J. Broomall, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 110 North King St.
Saturday, Dec. 5
9 a.m.-Union troops drill and demonstrate their firing protocols at their winter encampment, George Tyler Moore Center.
11 a.m.-Shepherdstown Parade. Troops, townspeople, and volunteers will walk in the parade, German Street.
Noon-Living history reenactment of Christmas in Shepherdstown, Reynolds Hall.
Noon-4 p.m.-Ornament making, Ferry Hill, across the Potomac River bridge.
Noon-3:30 p.m.-School of the Soldier. Children can try marching and drilling with Union soldiers, George Tyler Moore Center.
Noon-4 p.m.-Guided tours of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War.
Noon-4 p.m.-Walking tours of Shepherdstown will begin on each half hour and will include historic sites and the Union and refugee encampments, Entler Hotel.
Noon-4 p.m.-Refugee encampment, McMurran Hall lawn.
Noon-4 p.m.-19th-century toy demonstrations and sales, Reynolds Hall.
1 p.m.-Panel Discussion titled “West Virginia in War and Peace” featuring Nick Redding, executive director of Preservation Maryland, and Kevin Pawlak, education specialist for the Mosby Heritage Area Association, Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies Auditorium.
1-4 p.m.-Ornament making, Reynolds Hall.
3 p.m.-Living history reenactment of Christmas in Shepherdstown, Ferry Hill.
4 p.m.-Union troops drill and demonstrate their firing protocols at their winter encampment, George Tyler Moore Center.
5 p.m.-Lecture titled “Did John Brown Elect Abraham Lincoln?” by Dennis E. Frye, chief historian of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Byrd CLS Auditorium.
A Christmas in Shepherdstown is supported by the Shepherd University Foundation. For more information, contact the George Tyler Moore for the Center for the Study of the Civil War at 304-876-5429 or the Shepherdstown Visitors Center at 304-876-2786.