Ryan to reveal stories of Civil War wives
Behind some of the most powerful men in U.S. history, some very clever women have worked their magic. Local historian Tom Ryan will present “Julia & Mary: The Wives of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Gen. Robert E. Lee” at Bethany Beach Town Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 29.
Sponsored by Bethany Beach Cultural & Historical Affairs Committee, the 7 p.m. lecture is free and open to the public.
“It was a completely different era, when men were completely in control of business and political worlds and so on. So women had to work out different methods to have some influence, as well,” said Ryan. “They were very influential, of course, being married to powerful men.”
When Robert E. Lee married, Ryan said, his family had fallen on hard times, so Mary Lee provided wealth and social stability to the relationship.
“She also very spiritual, trying her best to get her husband to think along those lines,” said Ryan. Within a few years, Robert E. Lee was also confirmed in the Episcopal Church.
Meanwhile, Julia Grant was an emotional rock for Ulysses, Ryan said.
“He really needed her companionship to make his life more or less worthwhile. When he was stationed in places she could not go, he tended to fall apart,” Ryan said.
The program is actually the sequel to last year’s presentation on the Civil War-era presidents’ wives, Mary Todd Lincoln and Varina Davis. Those women definitely had friends in high places.
“Mary Lincoln wanted to refurbish the White House, which had been left to deteriorate some over the last few administrations,” said Ryan. To convince the uncooperative Congress, “she used her influence, had the president use to use his influence by ‘going though the back door,’ so to speak.”
As a special treat, “Mary Lee” and “Julia Grant” will be present, as two re-enactors bring the women to life with period costume.
“We’re really looking forward to having Tom Ryan visit,” said Laren Hughes, Bethany Beach events director and media coordinator. “His presentations are always very well-received.”
Ryan is a frequent lecturer statewide, who has also written “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War: A Political, Military and Social Perspective,” a collection of articles published in the Coastal Point, as well as the upcoming “Spies, Scouts and Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign: How the Role of Intelligence Impacted Lee’s Invasion of the North, June-July 1863.”
Refreshments will also be offered at the event, including hot chocolate and apple cider.
“It’s a great time in the offseason to get out and mingle with your neighbors and learn about history. The turnout is always great at these events,” said Hughes.
For more information, contact Laren Hughes at Bethany Beach Town Hall at (302) 539-8011.