Growing up in Danville, Va., Ernest Furgurson lived on Lee Street, went to Lee Baptist Church, and graduated from Robert E. Lee High School. An avid reader, he often holed up in the public library, a former mansion that served as the last capitol of the Confederacy. And yet it’s only been in the last few years that the author has turned to the Civil War for book material.
“I went off around the world as a reporter, and now I’m kind of circling back to my roots,” says Furgurson, who spent 36 years with the Baltimore Sun, including stints in Moscow and Vietnam.
In 1992, Furgurson penned a battle history, Chancellorsville 1863: Souls of the Brave; his latest, Ashes of Glory, focuses on Richmond during the war years. Using extensive new research, Ashes offers a panoramic view of the Confederate capital, which the author says has mostly been ignored by previous historians. “Nobody had really done the whole picture the way that I wanted to do it,” says Furgurson, who resides in Washington and has a mountain cabin in Delaplane, Va. “To include not only the bigwigs but the rest of the people.”
Furgurson reveals a war-fevered city teeming not only with soldiers and politicians, but with preachers and prostitutes, slave dealers and black freedmen, as well as a horde of Irish and German immigrants. One resident in the spring of 1865 was Furgurson’s great-grandfather, a Confederate soldier wounded in a battle near Petersburg; while recovering at Jackson Hospital, he was captured during the fall of Richmond and freed after the war.
Despite his two recent (and much-praised) books, Furgurson doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a Civil War writer. “I’ve just been working my way through a ‘one of these days’ list,” he says. His other works include a biography of Sen. Jesse Helms. Still, his next book will be a study of the Battle of Cold Harbor, Grant’s worst defeat and Lee’s last great victory.
And there’s another project always in the back of his mind: “I may one of these days do Danville, Last Capital of the Confederacy,” Furgurson says. “It’s been written about, but nobody’s done a serious job on it yet.”Eddie Dean