Ed Ayers Speaks at Pro Re Nata
Speaking at the December meeting of “Books and Brews,” the monthly conversation with authors held locally at Pro Re Nata, historian Ed Ayers noted it was appropriate for him to be discussing his latest book about the Civil War in Crozet. “You played a pivotal part in the war,” he said. The event, sponsored by WMRA, drew a full house and a reception from the audience as warm as the chilis in the South of the Border porter on tap.
Dr. Ayers, the retired president of the University of Richmond and previously a popular history professor at U.Va., answered questions about his new work, The Thin Light Of Freedom, an award-winning narrative of the Civil War from the point of view of two communities sharing the same Valley but on different sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. For the Confederate viewpoint, Ayers chose Augusta County, where most people did not own slaves but about a fifth of the population was enslaved.
In a later interview, Ayers said the Crozet tunnel—the longest in the world at the time––was a major factor. “Stonewall Jackson used it in 1862 in his surprise attacks in the Valley, and the tunnel connected the Valley to Richmond throughout the entire war.”
Jubal Early and his men protected the other entrance to the tunnel in Waynesboro until the last winter of the war. When they lost the tunnel the Valley was essentially lost, Ayers said.
In the conversation with WMRA’s Mary Froelich, Ayers acknowledged the turmoil swirling around Civil War monuments in Charlottesville. He’s on the monument commission in Richmond, and has raised many questions there. Those familiar with Ayers’s work know he’s not one to romanticize the war or the motives of either side.“Sure, there are those who say that slavery would have ended eventually, anyway,” he told the group. “I always ask them how they’d perceive a wait of a decade or so if their children could be sold any day.”
The next “Books and Brews” is Wednesday, January 9, with Lee Graves on “Virginia Beer; A Guide from Colonial Days to Craft’s Golden Age.”
This Just in…
Something’s happening with Mechum’s Trestle, the long-vacant, newly renovated restaurant at the intersection of Routes 250 and 240, said Realtor Stuart Rifkin, “but nothing to hold on to. It’s in the works. Full service restaurant, craft beers and ciders, Virginia wines. That’s all I’ve got for now.” The vacant former home of SWAY is still vacant, and so is the former home of Mountainside Grill, said the respective landlords.