Even longtime history buffs learn at Civil War conference

Oct. 21, 2011 at 5:21 a.m.

Even a history major, history teacher and professional historian picked up some new nuggets of knowledge from the "Civil War in Texas: Changing Interpretations after 150 Years" conference.

The conference, sponsored by the Victoria College/University of Houston-Victoria Library, was in full swing Friday with lecture compounding lecture since Thursday afternoon.

"It's not your normal Civil War conference," said George Cooper, chairman of the conference. "It's really about how the war impacted Texas and, in particular, South Texas."

Cooper said for the past year, he's been recruiting experts from across the state to share their knowledge about Victoria units that served in the war, battles across Texas and Texas women in the Civil War era, to name a few topics.

Phil Stranahan and his wife, Pam Wheat-Stranahan, said they try to attend conferences like Victoria's often. He's a history major and she's a former history teacher.

"The Civil War in Texas just has always fascinated me because, when you take a history course in school, it's like Texas didn't exist during the Civil War. You have to learn about it at things like this," Stranahan said.

The couple from Rockport were at the fourth session of lecturers Friday morning. They'd just heard from VC's Karen Fritz-Hagan, who spoke with animation and humor about Gen. Barnard Bee Jr.

Fritz-Hagan mocked the voice of Bee's father in letters about his son's wayward reputation at the U.S. Military Academy, where he earned plenty of demerits. In a tale about a father's disapproval and what would prove a fatal Civil War battle for Bee, the audience found tidbits of humor in the personal letters, 1800s school transcripts and longtime rumors that circulated about Bee.

Wheat-Stranahan scribbled the details of what she was learning into a notebook to "keep the history straight." The couple said they'd never heard about the campus of instruction set up in Texas to recruit fighters in the Civil War.

"The camps were pretty rudimentary - kind of like taking a knife to a gun fight," Stranahan said.

His wife was also taking note of battles that were fought along the Texas coast. They go fishing where some of them took place, the couple said.

Cooper said he tried to include a broad range of subjects in the conference so as to appeal to the interests of many.

He said he's been pleased at the reception.

"Any time we can get the word out, the knowledge out to the general public, and it also helps the economy of Victoria," he said.



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