The past year has been a tough one for Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, but he will be guest of honor — albeit in absentia — at an upcoming event in Mount Airy.
For the second year in a row, Mill Creek General Store at 541 W. Pine St. will host a birthday party for Stuart. It will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 6, the date Stuart was born in 1833 in Ararat, Virginia.
The public is invited to the event that will feature free musical entertainment, birthday cake and punch. It is being co-sponsored by the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust Inc. and Mill Creek General Store.
Tom Bishop, a spokesman for the birthplace organization, mentioned that the celebration of Stuart’s birthday will include a chance for the public to mingle and learn more about his life.
Holding such an event here is logical, organizers say, since the Stuart birthplace is located just a few miles from Mount Airy and the bonds were tight between that Surry community and the Stuart family during his lifetime.
Ben Holmes, who co-owns Mill Creek General Store with his wife Helen, said Thursday that the Mount Airy venue was a hit for the first birthday gathering in February 2015.
“We had a good turnout,” Holmes said of an event that attracted “a lot” of visitors from Patrick County and towns in North Carolina including Pilot Mountain. “Our dining area was full for lunch.”
Holmes explained that he and his wife have a personal interest in the gathering.
“We like to host it because she and I both had ancestors who fought in the Civil War,” he said. “We enjoy going to the battlefields in Virginia.” Holmes said one of his forebears served with Gen. Stonewall Jackson in the Army of Northern Virginia.
Hosting the J.E.B. Stuart birthday party also helps promote local history, Holmes said.
He added that period music from the 1800s will enhance the atmosphere for the Feb. 6 event and some people will attend in Civil War-era attire.
While this is only the second year it is being planned in Mount Airy, the J.E. B. Stuart birthday party previously was held in Stuart, Virginia, the town named for the Confederate officer which serves as the county seat of Patrick.
The change in locations to Mount Airy occurred after the closing of an antique mall in Stuart which had hosted the party.
While Stuart was always universally hailed as a hero in his home county, that changed last summer when a local judge decided to remove a portrait of Stuart from its longtime place on a wall at the county courthouse.
This was part of a backlash against Confederate flags, monuments and military figures in the wake of a mass shooting in South Carolina perpetrated by a Rebel sympathizer.
The Patrick County Board of Supervisors later voted to display the portrait in the lobby of the county administration building in Stuart, on a Wall of Honor in that building along with other images of local war heroes.
Meanwhile, the decision by the judge sparked a vigorous protest from Patrick citizens and representatives of Confederate heritage groups who held in rally in Stuart where speakers lambasted the portrait’s removal.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.