Hello. Allow me to introduce to you a new podcast series I am working on, “Society and the Civil War.” The writers, researchers, producers, and stars of these shows are none other than my students.

Over the next couple of months I will post a few episodes – a reflection of their work, yes. But also something that promises to be a reflection about the back and forth between war and the people that lived through it.

In this episode four of my students; Brian Carrozza, Ethan Eriksen, David Ceja, and Chris Maderos take on “The Brooks Brothers,” four strapping young lads attending Washington College in Lexington, Virginia when the Civil War paid a visit in 1861.


Hi there and welcome to Joe Historian, I’m Joe, and I’m a historian.

College Freshmen – you know, young people – those mostly right out of high school – aiming for that four-year college degree – looking first to get those required courses out of the way – history being among them – so you get these band of youths – in a way – kind of forced upon you  – perhaps somewhat reluctant and not so happy to be in a humanities course when all they want to do is code, or flame up the Bunsen burner, or pursue that STEM degree.

Well, here’s the thing – they’re welcome in my class anyway, and I push them – I challenge them – because – and here’s the key – I think they’re all brilliant.

And I tell them this. Most don’t think so.

So I let them in on a project – a project that involves podcasting. I tell them that by the end of the semester, they will research, then write, produce, and create a podcast about America’s Civil War. Now some of my colleagues think that this is impossible, that surely, students who are but a semester or two out of high school cannot create a podcast worth listening to, let alone one steeped in the humanities concerning America’s most tragic war – the war between the states.


Over the past couple of semesters I’ve been working on this podcasting project with my students. I have filed it under a working folder that I call “Society and the Civil War.” And you know what – some of them are good. No… no, no, no – some of them are pretty darn excellent.

So what I have decided to do, here on my blog site Joe Historian is to present these podcasts in a series -– in a series of episodes. Each episode is a team of students, usually about four, sometimes less, working together to talk about one of two American communities. One is in the north, the other South of the Mason Dixon line. These communities come to us courtesy of the Valley of the Shadow website, which is a digital archive hosted by the University of Virginia. Any way – a group of students takes on the research of a single family and how that family made it through – or in some cases – did not make it through a war that took – by some estimates – 650,000 lives. This war was not in some far away country, nope – it was in the backyards, the front yards, the family kitchens, it descended upon folks who then had little control over events – the war came – invited or not.

Washington College

A rare photograph of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, prior to the Civil War. Now Washington & Lee University.

What I intended – and I think by listening to these episodes – what I did succeed in doing – is –to put a human face on a war that took so many. And so with that….

Episode 1 – The Brooks Brothers – in this story my students Brian Carozza, Ethan Ericksen, David Ceja, and Chris Maderos take a look at four brothers – all of them students at Washington College in Lexington Virginia – when the Civil War paid a visit. The youngest, Moffett, was 18 when the war began, the oldest, Andrew, was only 24 – in between were William and Charles. They were all from a fairly prominent Virginia family, their father owned nine slaves. When the war began, the four brothers join with they’re college mates to form the Liberty Hall Volunteers. The Brooks Brothers…