"We are bringing in a highly talented, gifted and knowledgeable speaker, Gordon Rhea" said TCCWRT's D. Wayne Strong. "His program topic centers around the Wilderness and an unlikely, aging hero, Private Charles Whilden from Charleston, S.C."
Rhea has lectured extensively on topics of military history at the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, at several National Military Parks, and at historical societies and civil war round tables across the country.
He had been a member of numerous boards of directors of historical societies, magazines, and historic preservation organizations, including the Civil War Library and Museum, Philadelphia, and North and South magazine. Rhea has appeared on History Channel, A&E Channel, and Discovery Channel in programs related to American history and has written scores of articles for various scholarly and popular publications.
Rhea has written several books on the subject of the Overland Campaign focusing on the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, as well as the North Anna River Campaign. He has joined the long list of historians that will be advising on the screenplay and production of the "To Appomattox" miniseries for HBO.
Rhea's most recent book, "Carrying the Flag: The Story of Private Charles Whilden, the Confederacy's Most Unlikely Hero", tells the story of the brief, one week, military service of Charles Whilden, a middle-aged Confederate private from South Carolina, during the first battles of the Overland Campaign. Rhea's previous work on the Virginia campaigns of 1864 has established him as the most knowledgeable scholar about the period.
Whilden suffered from epilepsy, which kept him out of active service until early 1864, when the Confederate military, desperate for manpower, finally accepted him. Whilden earned the distinction of receiving what must have been one of the least fortunate draws in the whole war, being assigned to the 1st. South Carolina on the eve of Ulysses S. Grant's major offensives in Virginia. Whilden would have disagreed with that assessment; he sought military action and a chance to defend his state, and he received a cardinal opportunity to do both. The 1st. South Carolina, a part of Samuel McGowan's Brigade and Cadmus Wilcox's Division, was one of the most respected Confederate regiments and they played a leading role in the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania.
Following Union General Winfield Scott Hancock's successful breach of a weak spot in Robert E. Lee's lines early in the morning of May 12, Confederates recognized that they had to reclaim this ground while a new defensive line could be built farther to the south. In the effort to hold their ground, the 1st. South Carolina and other Confederates were rallied by the sight of Charles Whilden waving the regimental flag atop the earthworks that separated the two armies. Union fire destroyed the flag staff and shot Whilden in the shoulder, but wrapping the flag about himself, Whilden maintained his stand and helped guide Confederates to success.