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Press Release

The historic Stonewall Jackson Valley Campaign "electric map" is back and better than ever. The Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Historical Society has completely refurbished and modernized the map after months of difficult work. The 40-year-old, large scale, relief map of the valley dramatically shows how the campaign unfolded.  The lights are brighter, the sound is better and video has been added to show the faces and the places of the campaign.  The entire show is now run by a computer, which will make it possible to have programs for those with hearing impairments and grade school audiences.  The "new" map and show will be available to the general public after its dedication on February 23, 2002.


“The Stonewall Jackson Valley Campaign Electric Map, Recollections, Impressions and Trivia” by George Erdman

In the Spring and early Summer of 1862 Thomas Jonathan (Stonewall) Jackson lead his Confederate armies in a series of Civil War battles that became known as 'The Stonewall Jackson Valley Campaign".  The battles were fought up and down the Shenandoah Valley in Western Virginia with such brilliance and speed that they became classics of military tactics and maneuver.  Although never achieving complete victory the campaign succeeded in preventing the Union armies from capturing Staunton, which was critical to supplying Confederate armies in Richmond and to the west.  It also contributed greatly to the failure of George B. McClellan's attempt to capture Richmond

Exactly 100 years after the campaign started an electric map that depicted and described the campaign was unveiled in Harrisonburg, VA.  It was the brainchild of the "Civil War Roundtable Commission".  Several prominent members of the community belonged to "The Commission" as it was called, including Col. R.T. Benson, Nelson Alexander and Dr. John Wayland of Madison College.  Local business leaders including Hamilton Shea (owner of WSVA) and Adrian Saum (owner of Joseph Ney's Department Store) agreed to build and electrify the map.  Dr. Wayland was to prepare a script of the campaign story based on his research.  The project was launched early in 1961.

Bob Marshman the Creative Director at Joseph Ney's built the relief map using plywood, USGS contour maps, nails and water putty.  The result was an accurate relief map of the Shenandoah Valley, extending from below Staunton, Virginia to north of Hagerstown, Maryland.  It was built on sawhorses in one of the downstairs classrooms of the old "Main Street School" (now Harrisonburg Municipal Building).  Warren Braun (then) of WSVA volunteered to supply the technology to run the lights, however because of a heavy schedule as Station Manager he passed the primary responsibility to Thomas B. Jones the WSVA Chief Engineer.  Tom was busy also and as things happen, decided to authorize George Erdman to "help out" a few hours a week.

Following the basic concepts laid out by Warren and Tom, George worked out the details of the electronic controls for the map.  George and Tom Huffman made trips in an old 1960 Volkswagen (named "Putrid") to Fredericksburg, VA and Getteysburg, PA to observe other maps and the presentation.  On the way back to Harrisonburg they agreed to make sure the new map would be better than what they had seen.


Military surplus parts were purchased by WSVA and along with some new parts; construction of the light controls was started.  At the same time Jim McNeil of WSVA took the story of the campaign prepared by Dr. Wayland and adapted it into a narration that would present well as a story.  Once the basic map was built and the electric control design was proven to work adequately, the task of adding lights to the map started.

Three hundred and forty nine holes were drilled through the map along the paths followed by the Confederate and Union armies.  Clear plastic tubes were inserted from the back for inserting the lights.  Clear plastic plugs were glued into the holes from the front and chiseled to match the map contours.  How to color the lights was debated and finally solved by coloring the backs of the plastic plugs with "Magic Markers", a solution that lasted 40 years.

Many hours were spent installing those lights in the fall of 1961.  Tom Jones, Ira T. (Buddy) Lowe, Ed Cahill, "Peady Shifflett", Owen Voight and Tom Huffman to name just a few all sweated over the map on those hot fall days to prepare for its finishing touches by Mr. Marshman.  It was tedious work done with small hammers and chisels.  Everyone had their own special area to work on and after a while talking dwindled then stopped altogether.  All that could be heard was the tapping of the hammers and occasional cursing when a big chunk broke out of the map from a too hard tap.  Eventually the sweating and the cursing were done and the map was set upright.  Mr. Marshman then artistically converted it from a uniform mustard color into what it is today.

Wiring the lights took many, many hours.  Each bulb had to be connected to a particular terminal and checked.  After that the lights had to be checked to make sure they closely followed the movements of the troops.  Eventually all the wires and controls were stuffed into a sound insulated plywood box about six feet long and three feet square.  It became know to insiders as "The Coffin".  It was set up behind the map and if one listened carefully they could hear a quiet thump, thump, thump emanating from the box as the relays moved the lights along.  New volunteers who were learning to run the map for the public would almost invariably ask, "What's that noise?"  When the opportunity arose, the top was taken off the box to expose a mass of wires and devices.  With the top off the relays made an annoying clacking noise that could be heard down the hall.

Things really began to come together for the planned dedication in the spring of 1962 when Jim McNeil finished his narration, Bob Marshman began to wrap up the decorations and the problems with the controls were worked out.  The remaining problem was to synchronize the lights with the narration.  This was done by putting  "beeps" on tape when the lights needed to advance.  George Erdman says he had to listen to that narration until he knew it by heart, because even the slightest mistake meant starting back at the beginning.



As usually happens with all volunteer projects there was a rush to complete preparations for the grand opening.  During this, George says he remembers asking someone, perhaps Col. Benson how long he expected the map to last.  The answer was something like; "Just for the duration of The Centennial, about 5 years."  George breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that the map had kind of been put together with used parts, a "lick-and-a-promise" and whatever else came out of the grab bag.  It looked really good from the front but the back was a jumble.  Over the 10 years he tried to keep the map going, George wished he had done a neater job on the wiring and everything.  It turned out to be one of those "pay me now or pay me later" kinds of deals.


The map was finally completed. Those who had built it were extremely nervous at the "Grand Opening" because everybody who was anybody was there.  The only alternative if the map flopped was to move out of town. There was a huge sigh of relief when the spotlight popped on the portrait of Stonewall that was on the upper corner of the map and the song "Dixie" resounded through the room.  There were write-ups in the Daily News Record and more than enough oooohs, aaaaahs, and congratulations to go around. Despite the nervousness, it had gone off flawlessly. Some took more credit than deserved and some who were deserving got very little, but everyone agreed however that the effort was worthwhile and they were proud that Harrisonburg had such a fine exhibit.

Perhaps because of the publicity, many people volunteered to learn about the map and take turns running it.  The register of visitors began to become more interesting as the map's reputation grew among Civil War buffs and by word of mouth. Like all mechanical things however the map didn't always work perfectly.  New volunteers were always unsure of what to do in these cases, so a button was added to allow them to advance the lights if they got behind the narration.  Many of the volunteers were "mature" ladies who were invariably pleasant and seemed to appreciate the explanation of the problems.  In all likelihood they were just being polite.

Eventually the Centennial was over, interest in the map began to wane and the space was needed for other "more important" purposes.  By this time a small museum had been set up in the basement of the Municipal Building.  With much effort the map was moved to a smaller viewing room that was unfortunately about 3 feet shorter that the map was tall.  Some of the top of the map above Winchester had to be cut off to make it fit.  Fortunately the removed section was saved and the lights temporarily disconnected.  Those who hadn't seen the presentation before never noticed the difference.  A close examination of the map shows the line where the section was added back.

The years in the basement were hard on the controls.  The basement was damp, causing contacts to corrode and making operation less and less reliable.  Sometime during this interval ownership of the map was conveyed to the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Historical Society.  Eventually George Erdman moved to Buffalo, severing his involvement with the map till much later.




New members of the Historical Society revived interest in the map as it approached its 20th birthday.  It had been moved to a historic house just north of the Municipal Building on Harrisonburg's' Main Street.  New technology was available that could make it more reliable.  Eventually arrangements were made with MPA Technical Services of Vienna, VA to design and build solid state controls for the map.  The new controls were dubbed the "AVCEM System-8".  This stands for Audio Visual Computerized Electric Map.  In fact only the lights on the map were computerized.  The narration still ran on a tape recorder that also synchronized the lights.  A new narration was created for the upgrade.  Although it consisted of the same basic script as the original, the timing was changed and local folks were somewhat thrown off by the narrators pronunciation of Strasburg and Staunton.  The new system did its job however and continued to be used after the map was moved once more to new quarters at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Historical Society Museum on High Street in Dayton, VA.

Although the maps’ operation was satisfactory, members of the Society began to discuss possible improvements.  Plans were drawn up and Charles Warren, Plant Manager at Packaging Corporation of America in Harrisonburg made arrangements to build and install a support steel frame for the map.  This was done at the request of Judy Warren who was a member of the Historical Society Board.  The map odyssey was brought to the present day with its mounting on the stage of the auditorium of the museum.  The computerized controls were checked and the map was brought back to life but was suffering from the curse of technology, obsolescence.

One Saturday morning at the Thomas House in Dayton Judy and Charles Warren were describing the work on the map to acquaintances, Desmon Wichael and George Erdman.  George described a bit of his involvement with the map and volunteered to join Charles and his technicians in evaluating its condition.  It turned out that Larry Bowers; President of the Historical Society and others had been discussing the possible upgrade of the map to include a slide presentation.  Thus began a new chapter in the map saga.

After some consideration and planning EREN Corporation submitted a plan for renovating the map and adding slides.  To make a long story short, Mr. Bowers made arrangements to obtain funding for the parts needed and EREN Corporation volunteered to supply the expertise.

The plan called for replacing the old light bulbs with 'solid state' light emitting diodes (LED's).  EREN Corporation employees were to design and build custom controls to operate the map.  Volunteers would start the program using a computer.  The computer would then run the program, including the map, a narration and slide projectors.  Eventually the slide projector idea was scrapped and replaced by video displays or projectors. These will be much more flexible and useful to the Society.  The system provides for displaying two separate still or video images.  The upgrade also included installing a new high quality sound system that would give the presentation greater impact.




Creating the new system presented many challenges.  The new controls were designed and put together on a "breadboard" to make sure they would work.  After eliminating as many bugs as possible circuit boards were designed and produced with the assistance Jeff Morris of WWW in Charlottesville VA.  Mr. Jim Eiland at Blue Ridge Community College consulted on the design and also helped solve the last "bug" that allowed the controls to work.  The software that runs the computer was created almost entirely by Anthony Erdman.  Tony also wrote a special "programming language" for writing programs to sequence the lights.  The new software allows lots of flexibility in running the lights and is far faster than the old controls.  Tony worked long hours into the night to get the whole thing working.  By August 2001 most of the changes were complete, the controls were checked out and the equipment was ready to go, but there was no program to run the map.

Some decisions were needed about working up the presentation.  Bill Reed of Shenandoah Productions had been kind enough to donate a reading of an updated script.  The reading though flawless, did not have background music, which is important to the overall presentation.  The narration tape that had been used since 1984 was noisy and contained pronunciation errors.  Earlier, Aaron Shirkey from EREN had discovered a copy of the original "Jim McNeil" version of the Valley Campaign story in a box of "junk".  In the end it was decided to use it.  As mentioned, Jim had produced and recorded this at WSVA some 40 years before. Although the copy is not quite a clear as the original, it's still a great narration and greatly valued as a link to the past and a tribute to Jim who is no longer with us!  It's been digitally recorded and integrated into the new presentation.

Once the narration was chosen, Seymour Paul took on the difficult task of matching up the story with the lights and slides.  Seymour worked almost quietly and put in many long hours working on the program, checking it then working on it some more.  One Saturday the EREN Corporation team members showed up to check out some programming they had done and much to their surprise, Seymour had nearly finished the entire presentation.

A little touch here, a little touch there and the project was finished.  The map was once again ready for the public to be entertained and from which to learn local history.

This story ends in the middle.  There is a world of possible 'nexts'. For example, it would be great to have a show especially done for the hearing impaired.  A different show for grade school children would be great.  With a few more lights the story of "The Burning" in 1864 could be told.  Or with a few others the history of valley settlement is possible.  All of these could be ready to go with the click of a mouse.  Only time will tell what will be.

This story isn't very long and only gives a peek through one set of eyes.  There is much more that could be added if others who were involved along the way would share their recollections.  If you have gotten this far and know something more about the history of the "electric map", the Historical Society would like to hear about it.




George Erdman who wrote most of this is pleased you took the time to read it.  We hope it was informative and entertaining.



Some of the people who played a key role in the map project are noted below:


·        Larry Bowers was the moving force behind getting the map into the shape it is  today.

·        Cliff Miller who mounted the map on the frame.

·        Packaging Corporation of America and Charles Warren for the cost of materials and labor to mount the map.

·        All of the credit for the new controls belongs to Anthony Erdman, Aaron Shirkey and Charles Douglass.  George Erdman got to help now and then.  They donated the time and creativity it took to design, build and install all of the new technology.

·        EREN Corporation provided the organization and space for developing the new controls.

·        John Heatwole acted as a consultant and provided historical slides.

·        Seymour Paul worked up the new presentation. He put together the slides with the pictures with the lights.

·        Allen Litten contributed a number of modern slides.

·        Bill Reed provided a new reading of the narration.



Getting close to completion on the first set of controls in 1962

DNR photo 1961


This is what the map looked like after being moved but before beginning the third generation of the Stonewall Jackson Valley Campaign presentation in 2000


Anthony Erdman

Seymour Paul




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