Lee’s Miserables’ Love Connection

The following is a unique true love story. Friday afternoon, June 7, 2000 found us at Pt. Lookout in the prison pen, physically preparing the pen area by cutting grass, swatting mosquitoes, staging the area for the next day’s prison performance and our Lee’s Miserables practicing their lines for the skit. To my left, I saw walking down the path, a man whom I did not know. He asked where the blue/gray re-enactors were to assemble. The event that he was talking about was to take place the following weekend, not on this particular weekend, which is only geared toward Confederate POWs. He was a very mild mannered, polite, easy talking man who apologized for getting his weekends mixed up and said that it was alright, he would go back home (it’s only over a hundred miles away in Manassas, VA!) and just come back the following weekend. With a thousand things on my mind and wondering how in the world someone could possibly get the two events mixed up, I can’t believe that I even had the manners to offer him to stay and re-enact with our Lee’s Miserables...but thank goodness that I did! He was Confederate-dressed with this cute little hat and he did seem to possess the character that a Southerner would have displayed.... even though he did have that strange last name of Purschwitz.

Dave Purschwitz proved to be a great Lee’s Miserable and was a positive addition to our POW re-enactors. At the day’s conclusion, I asked him how he made out and he stated that everything went fine and he enjoyed fellowshipping with his inmate comrades. I asked him if he’d be interested in joining us the following year. He stated that he would! I sent him our follow up newsletter and he was added to our list of performers for the following year.

I never saw this gentleman again, until May 5th at Meadow Farm in Richmond when we had a PLPOW/LM display table. His group was set up behind us. I recognized him because of that hat! I went over to him and asked, "Don’t I know you from somewhere, like prison?" Yep, that was him. He introduced me to Vanessa from Richmond, VA. Now, Vanessa had been at Pt. Lookout last year, also. Only she was helping with the UDC display in our living history area. Vanessa wandered on down to see the Lee’s Miserables’ prison performance...the last one of the day.

She is now showing me a very beautiful engagement ring. I took Dave’s hand in my left hand and Vanessa’s engagement hand in my right....what a great feeling!! Our first Pt. Lookout love story! I was ecstatic for both of them. I was busying myself the rest of the day, spreading the gossip to everyone I knew at this place, pointing to them and saying that they had met at Pt. Lookout and are getting married!! Ahh, if only they had chosen to get married at Pt. Lookout! I’d love to organize a Pt. Lookout wedding. Hummm, wonder if I could convince Vanessa’s son to do this someday when he becomes of age?

Vanessa had a very informative Herb & Southern Home Front display at this reenactment. I had already asked Dave if he was going to be at Pt. Lookout and he said ‘Yes.’ I got to thinking, well Dave is coming, Vanessa might as well come on up and set up her display in our living history area. After asking her, she stated that she would be delighted to come; however, she would have to leave her station to attend Lee’s Miserables Last Performance. I told her that I perfectly understood and she could definitely do so! After the weekend’s event, I had emailed Vanessa and told her that I appreciated her coming and asked if she’d be interested in returning next year. She stated that she would not only be there next year, but ALL the years to follow...that Pt. Lookout has a special meaning to them!"

Two notes of interest...one of Vanessa’s children, Robert, will be reenacting with Dave in the prison pen next June! Is this a happy ending or what?! Also, upon discussing family, I was informed by Vanessa that her ancestor, The Colonel is buried just one street over from my house! So, everyday when I walk by the Colonel's grave, I have to pay my respects from Vanessa.

Now, this has been "my side" of this story. Let’s read what Vanessa has to say what happened. Here’s the story in her words.....

In May of 2000, my UDC chapter announced that it was going to Pt. Lookout for their annual event to hand out information on the UDC. Also, wreathes would be laid at the memorial ceremony. I had never been there and wanted to go very badly, as my uncle had been there at the end of the war. The Thursday before the event, I informed them that I could not go due to lack of money. The chapter president gave me some money so I could attend. Early Saturday morning, my three boys and I left Richmond for Pt. Lookout.

Dave Purschwitz, had been in Harrisburg, PA for an event that had been a dud. He had heard that there was an event at Pt. Lookout and decided to attend it instead. There was another man who said he would follow Dave to Pt. Lookout so they could do the event together. However, about half way there, the other gentleman decided that he did not want to go after all and tried to get Dave to go back to Harrisburg with him. Dave wanted to go on to Pt. Lookout and the other man turned around. Arriving very late, Dave slept in his car. The next morning he found out that the event he came for was the following weekend. He was invited to stay, however, and be a part of Lee’s Miserables. Dave explained that he did not have an ancestor that had been at Pt. Lookout and was told that was OK, to join in any way.

Just 2 days before, on Thursday, I had discovered another Confederate in my lineage that had some odd information surrounding his burial. This young soldier cousin had been wounded at 2nd Manassas and died shortly after. The information that I found stated that he was buried in the Manassas Cemetery in Warrenton, VA. Now, I knew that either he was either buried at the Warrenton Cemetery in Warrenton or the Manassas Cemetery in Manassas; the Warrenton Cemetery in Manassas made no sense.

After a full day at Pt. Lookout, my 3 boys and I, then ages 5, 7, & 9, walked up to see the final performance of Lee’s Miserables at 4 PM. As the boys stood at the rope looking in, a re-enactor approached the rope and asked if they had any questions. No, they did not. He asked me if I had an ancestor who had been at Pt. Lookout. I told him yes "But", I have another ancestor that is puzzling me at the moment." I (for some unknown reason) proceeded to tell him all about "Cousin George", the 2nd Manassas soldier. The gentleman at the rope told me that he could probably help me out since he worked at the Manassas Museum! We introduced ourselves to one another and he gave me his email address, explaining that it was his last name, Purschwitz, minus a few letters. The performance was enjoyed and the boys and I left.

A few days later, I emailed the Manassas Museum re-enactor with all of the information that I had. As I wrote the email, I could not remember the rest of this man’s last name. I spelled out Purschwitz, but felt embarrassed if that should be wrong. Instead of "Dear Mr. Purschwitz," I went with "Hello & Greetings From Richmond, VA!" This seemed safer. I was honest and told him that I couldn’t remember his last name. The reply came right back "What do you mean you can’t remember my last name! You take the alphabet, throw out a couple of letters, and you’ve got it. My last name is Purschwitz, but please call me Dave."

Dave found out that "Cousin George" had been injured in the thigh and taken to Warrenton to a makeshift hospital where he had died. He had been buried in the Warrenton Cemetery in a section that held Manassas casualties. Once upon a time, the school children had made crosses for all of the soldiers, complete with name and regiment, intending to return them to their families after the war was over. However, the Yankees had entered Warrenton and during the winter used the crosses for firewood; approximately 600 men were now nameless! When the war was over, they were all put into a mass grave and a monument was erected over them. Many, many years passed and by a stroke of good luck combined with persistence, a man found out who the soldiers were! There is now a wall with each and every man’s name and regiment inscribed on it. The wall was dedicated several years ago. Dave was there as part of the ceremony. Dave had honored my ancestor!

Several days later, I found yet another cousin who is buried there also. I wrote back to Dave, in hopes that I wasn’t bothering him. I started this email out by saying, "You are probably saying, "Oh, no, it’s her again." But I have found another cousin in the same cemetery. Could you possibly look him up too?" Dave replied by saying, "OH, NO, IT’S HER AGAIN!" For the first time in years, I laughed.

A couple of weeks went by and Dave emailed me that he had found a book that listed all the Confederate dead that are buried in the Washington, DC area, including my two cousins. He also informed me of an event that the museum was having for the anniversary of the battle toward the end of July. Would I like for him to pick up a copy of the book? Yes! In the meantime, my computer clock was way off the correct time. I sent an email at midnight that came through to Dave as 3 AM. He made the comment that I was up very late. His email came through from work as 4:30 AM. I said that he was a fine one to talk being at work that early! My comment to him was, "Well, you are not much better going to work at 4:30 in the morning.....your wife must not think much of that." His reply was immediate. "I was at work at 7:30 AM and as for the wife, she left years ago." I had a terrible marriage that was falling apart rapidly, but I now also had a friend who had "been there and done that." Dave became a friend who made me laugh and offered me the support that I needed.

Dave and I started comparing notes and it turned out that we had been at all of the same events in the past few months. Some were quite small events. Except for one event, I was always in 21st century dress and he was in 19th century. Now I would be going to the Manassas event in 19th century clothing and he would be in 21st century. I met him there, got the book, and we agreed to keep in touch. About two weeks after the Manassas event, Dave came to Richmond. The boys and I took him to the new NPS Civil War Visitors Center. Several weeks later, Dave showed up in line right behind me at the Civil War show in Richmond. We were becoming good friends. He offered to go to a camping event with me, to help out. I liked the idea and he joined me and the boys. He invited me to participate in an upcoming event at the museum at the end of September. He then told me of another event the week after the museum event and said if I could only do one that would be the one to do. It is a good event that takes place every year, the Waterford (VA) Festival. He’d been doing the event for 20 years. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Waterford....I’d been going yearly since I was 10 years old. I’d been in the Confederate camp at the same time as Dave for 20 years! Very weird, to say the least.

It was discovered that Dave had internal bladder cancer and was to have outpatient surgery the middle of September. I went up for the surgery. He had been such a support to me, it was my turn to repay him. Then the doctors found that it was also on the outside of the bladder and he was scheduled for major surgery on October 31st. Once again, I went up. By this time my marriage had officially ended. After the second surgery, I returned home a day early, explaining to my mom that I felt like I was falling too fast, too quickly and that I & Dave would be keeping a distance. However, by Thanksgiving, Dave had come to Richmond to join the family to celebrate the holiday. So much for keeping distance! My mom said she knew that I had fallen in love with him and would not admit it. Looking back, she was correct. My marriage had ended years ago, it was time to move on.

And so I did. By Christmas, my mom could see that we were getting serious. Looking back, I fell in love with him because he made me laugh. In March, Dave asked me to marry him. I wear a beautiful ring that belonged to his mom. We are planning a War Between the States wedding to be held at Sky Meadows State Park, hopefully in October. After doing a program there, both Dave and I fell in love with it. It seemed fitting to have a period wedding held in such a beautiful place. Dave has now been given a clean bill of health.

So there you have it, A Point Lookout Love Story. Neither one should have been at Pt. Lookout, but we both ended up there. Who would have thought that "Cousin George" would have been found just two days before we met and Dave was able to help solve the mystery of his burial? They had been crossing paths for 20 years at Waterford and more frequently in the last few months, but always in different centuries. We recently discovered that while he was in the Air Force, stationed at Arlington Hall, I was shopping at the same PX and commissary (as he was) with my mommy. He was 19; I was 3-that was nearly 40 years ago! It wasn’t our time to meet ... until Point Lookout. The Lord knew exactly when to let "Cousin George" surface!

.....Vanessa Cole, descendant of 39 CSA ancestors, including William Battle Cole, 1st VA Battalion Reserves and Lewis Leander Aiken, 6th NC Cav., both Point Lookout POWs.

Now, George Cole was the reason for the conversation at Pt. Lookout between Vanessa and Dave, BUT....if it hadn’t been for William Cole and Lewis Aiken, Vanessa’s interest to go to Pt. Lookout would have never taken place and she would have never gone to Pt. Lookout on that day...the day that was to be the beginning of a bright and happy future with the Lee’s Miserable in the prison pen..... the fellow in the cute hat. And now, you have the rest of the story.

Update ... June 8, 2002:

Renewal of Wedding Vows in Prison Pen

At the conclusion of Lee's Miserables last performance, they participated in a period wedding. Rev. Gene Priore affiliated using War Between the Sates wedding vows. Dave Purschwitz and Vanessa Cole renewed their wedding vows in the pen. Special music was provided by Wade and Charles Harris as they strummed the beautiful Ashokan's Farewell melody. Michael Virts sang Shenandoah as a solo. After the ceremony, the Confederate Santa Claus (Bob Parker) and artillerist, Lt. Walter Shepard, held swords high as the bride and groom walked under the arch. Following tradition, the bride was swatted on the be-hind with the sword as they walked hand-in-hand down the parted isle the POWs had provided for them.

The Wedding Party

Marty Allison, Dave Purschwitz, Bill Brown, Vanessa Cole-Purschwitz, B.J. Carpenter

Last updated on October 27, 2008
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