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  • Writer's pictureCatherine White

Southern Tier Life: Events

Elmira to Host Civil War Symposium In August


by Sarah Grossman, Elmira College


The Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp and Elmira College are partnering to host an inaugural Civil War Symposium August 4 through 6 at Elmira College in New York state.


"We hope to see local community members and Civil War history enthusiasts from all over the country as we investigate the unique position Elmira held in one of the most important time periods for our country," said Martin Chalk, Chemung County Legislature, 10th District, and President and Co-Founder of the Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp.


The multi-day event forwards the Friends' mission of "protecting and preserving the history of the Civil War in Elmira, Chemung County and surrounding areas, and to educate the public about that history." It will feature a range of presentations and activities that highlight Elmira's historic role in the Civil War. Attendees will tour Civil War-related sites in Elmira including the Chemung Valley History Museum, John W. Jones Museum, and barracks #3 at the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp site.


"Elmira College is excited to host the Symposium attendees and help them engage with the local community and our shared rich history," said Dr. Charles Lindsay, Elmira College President. "Founded in 1855, Elmira College's early years were in the shadow of the Civil War. Known at the time as the Elmira Female College, students gazed out of windows in Cowles Hall as soldiers marched past on their way to different training sites."


In addition to the registered portions of the Symposium, the public is invited to an Open House and Book Signing from 1-4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 6 at the Civil War Prison Camp, Barracks #3, 645 Winsor Ave. in Elmira. Attendees can tour the barracks, which give a historic view of the facilities first used by the Union Army and later housed Confederate Army prisoners.

Visitors of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp may meet Doug Oakes, who often gives tours of the site.


Author Mary Frailey Calland will be on hand to sign copies of her book, Our Lesser Angels: A Novel of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp. The historic fiction tells the story of a North Carolina widow who travels to Elmira to learn the meaning of an engraved ring she found in the pocket of her deceased husband's uniform.


For Symposium attendees, the keynote address will be given Saturday, Aug. 5 at Hilltop Inn in Elmira.


Dr. Michael P. Gray, Professor of History at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, will present the keynote, named the Dr. Thomas K. Meier Keynote in honor of the late Dr. Meier who was Elmira College President from 1987 through 2012.


Gray teaches courses on the Civil War, public history, interpreting Civil War sites, U.S. military and history. His first book, The Business of Captivity: Elmira and its Civil War Prison, was a finalist for the Seaborg Award, and a chapter of that work, first published in Civil War History, earned "Honorable Mention" for the Eastern National Award. Gray's latest book is an edited volume entitled Crossing the Deadlines: Civil War Prisons Reconsidered. He has won internal and external grants relating to the prisons, including "Civil War Prison Archeology: Team Teaching Public History on Johnson's Island" (2011) as well as the "National Prisoner of War Grant," Andersonville, Ga. (2014).


Click here for additional details and registration information, or visit the Elmira Civil War Camp's Facebook page at @ElmiraCivilWar.


* Correction (7/16/23): Doug Oakes is the name of the guide (pictured) who gives some of the visitors' tours of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp. His last name was previously posted incorrectly. We apologize for the error.

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