Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

April 30, 2012

Six degrees of Robert E. Lee at the Jeffersonville Battle re-enactment

— — As I watched the playful banter between Lincoln presenters John and Betty Mansfield during the Skirmish at Jeffersonville Battle re-enactment last week, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw Al Stone from Hinton seated on a bale of straw and laughing along with the audience. John Mansfield is a great presenter of President Abraham Lincoln, and Stone is a great presenter of General Robert E. Lee. I continued watching the show and watching Stone’s reaction and I found myself drawn into the setting.

Since I was covering the skirmish as an event, I knew I couldn’t listen to the entire presentation so I got up from my seat and started looking for my next opportunity. Al Stone was standing in line at a mobile shot-order food stand near the tent where the Mansfields were making their presentations. My job is to bother people, but I don’t customarily bother people while they’re stuck in a line, waiting to get something to eat. However, the context of the moment seemed so unique, that I couldn’t resist walking over and talking to him.

I get my share of people coming up to me when I’m stuck in lines, and that’s why I hesitated. However, Mr. Stone was magnanimous and we talked for a while. He told me that he really enjoyed Mansfield’s presentation as Abraham Lincoln. He thought he established a good rapport with the audience and added that he had obviously researched the subject and knew Lincoln’s story from both a public and private side.

Stone is, himself, well-versed on the historical character he presents. I had seen him before at various events and even spoke with him once a few years ago during an event at the Bronze Look in Princeton. Most of the times that we have met, he was in character as General Lee. However, standing in line, waiting to buy a hot dog for his wife, he was just Al Stone, which I thought was pretty cool.

I told him that I had been seated in the gallery of the West Virginia House of Delegates chamber on Feb. 22, 2007, when he addressed the joint session of the state House and Senate. I told him that I was impressed by the way the legislators, who had been talking and carrying on through most of the session, became silent and respectful when he came up to the speaker of house’s podium. The hush was something special for me to experience and I told Mr. Stone as much. He humbly accepted the compliment, and returned his eyes on the window where he would place his order.

There was a brief time from when he placed his order and when other customers placed moved forward as he waited for his food to be prepared. I said that, while I studied American Civil War history as a young person, I hadn’t done that much lately, with the exception of researching the life and times of Jedediah Hotchkiss, because he was the guy most responsible for structuring the Flat Top or Pocahontas Coalfields, and I was a student of coalfield history.

Stone became excited with the mention of Hotchkiss’ name. He said that he had a map that Hotchkiss prepared for the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, and it contained traditional topographical details as well as information about each family who lived along the way. “You can imagine how many supplies an army of 40,000 men would consume along the way, and details like that were of utmost importance to a leader moving an army through a rural area,” he said.

I absorbed that information, and quickly responded that it had been an unexpected privilege for me to deliver the Ehiphany message at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Bluefield, Va., on Jan. 5, 2009, and said I spoke from the same pulpit that Lee used as a lay reader at (then) Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington, Va., after the war. As he absorbed that, I urged him to visit the church, and said that Father Russell Hatfield — a direct descendent of Valentine Hatfield — Devil Anse Hatfield’s oldest brother.

Stone replied that Devil Anse had been a scout in Lee’s personal retinue and at the end of the war, he had given the Hatfield clan leader a big, white horse named Ajax that Lee had named, no doubt, with obvious reference to the great warrior of Greek Mythology fame who battled Hector in the Trojan War in the days before Achilles.

I appreciate the work of presenters like Mr. Stone and Mr. and Mrs. Mansfield. Their thorough research of historical figures can bring new light to anyone anxious to fully understand the past.

Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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