It might surprise you to learn that one of the more robust Civil War tour companies on the planet is run by a British national and operates out of England. But Peter Gascoyne-Lockwood, the son of a British Naval Officer, considers himself a citizen of the world, and his company, Old Country Military & History Tours, is a reflection of that belief. He sees the study of the Civil War as essential and necessary no matter where you live.
“This was the first English-speaking civil war since our Civil War in the 16th century,” Lockwood says. “As far as I recall, in the 20-plus years that I have been leading American Civil War tours, we have only ever had one American on the trip. Most of our clients are from Great Britain, with a sprinkling from Australia and New Zealand.”
Lockwood’s passion for history in general and the Civil War specifically began in his childhood, and was nurtured by a life spent abroad, including a stint in Virginia in the 1990s. All the while, Lockwood was accumulating knowledge and making contacts, all of which would be crucial to the launch of Old Country Tours. According to BGES Executive Director Len Riedel, no one has done more to facilitate British interest in the Civil War. Mike Kennedy of the BGES Blog spoke to Lockwood recently about his life as a globetrotter and his pursuit of American history.
MK: You’re the son of a British Naval Officer. How did that shape your childhood? How did you become interested in the Civil War?
P G-L: I was born in Chichester (Sussex) in 1951. The first nine years of my life were spent in Great Britain and overseas where my father served. In 1960 I was sent to a boarding school in East Anglia, which I left in 1969. I don’t think that my father’s career had anything to do with me being interested in history. I just found it a very interesting subject. For example, where I went to school is a 12th-century castle, which at one time held Mary Queen of Scots as a prisoner. My interest in the American Civil War came by seeing The Red Badge of Courage and other Western films.
MK: You eventually joined the British Army, which allowed you to travel the world. What was that experience like? How did it feed your love of history?
P G-L: During my time in the army I served in Germany, Cyprus, and the Far East. Whilst in these countries I was able to spend time visiting historical sites and meeting people, many of whom had experienced the hardship of war. I learnt so much by doing this, and reading history books became one of my main interests.
MK: In the 1990s, you settled in Virginia for a while, and rediscovered your childhood passion for the Civil War. How did this play out in your life going forward?
P G-L: Whilst in the Army I had studied Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign of 1862 and had continued to read books on the American Civil War. Once I moved from Northern Virginia to Front Royal in the Shenandoah Valley, I was able to follow this campaign in full. During the time that I visited most of the Eastern Theater sites.
On my return from the U.S., I joined the American Civil War Round Table UK (www.acwrt.org.uk), and within three years I was the president, serving from 2000 to 2004. In 2003, we celebrated their 50th anniversary with a conference that was attended by 125 members and guests. We were very fortunate that our key speakers included Ed Bearss, Jeb Stuart IV, Frank O’Reilly, and Joe Whitehorne. Without a doubt, their impute and knowledge did a lot in promoting the ACWRT UK. Since then annual conferences have been held. Len was a speaker I believe in 2009.
MK: Today, you’re the Chief Executive of Old Country Tours in England. Tell us about the business, including your partnership with BGES.
P G-L: In 1993 I was fortunate enough to meet Chris Curran, who was the owner and publisher of the fine American Civil War magazine Civil War Society. On finding out my interest in the war, he asked if I would like to attend events that he had arranged for members of the Society, which I did. And through this contact, Old Country Tours was formed.
The idea for the company name was that all Americans, except for Native Americans, come from an “Old Country” and so my intention was that we would take them back on tours to see the land of their forefathers. In 1996, 25 members attended the Civil War Society’s first overseas tour, “2,000 Years or so of British History.”
BGES and OCT have worked together for the past 15 years or so, with OCT offering selected BGES tours to our clients. Last year, due to the pandemic, the only tour that took place was a BGES tour, which a couple of our clients attended in February.
MK: You’re the company’s guide for Civil War tours. What are some of your favorite sites to visit? What tours are on the schedule for 2021 and beyond?
P G-L: I am always pleased to be back in the Shenandoah Valley, which not only has key battles but beautiful scenery. I think the site that has not been spoilt by development must be Shiloh. I love hosting tours, but at certain battlefields, such as Gettysburg and Vicksburg, I get assistance from local guides who have a much greater knowledge than I have.
Currently, I have nothing planned for this year as it looks as though overseas travel for us will be negated by possible quarantine rules on the return home. That is if we are allowed to travel. The latest update from the government is that it will be unlikely. And of course, the U.S. border has to be reopened.
MK: Old Country Tours is a BGES corporate partner. Tell us about that affiliation. What do you enjoy about the group?
P G-L: Enjoy is probably the wrong word. I respect greatly what Len has managed to achieve with BGES over the years, especially the preservation projects and their work with disabled service personnel.
MK: Len loves to talk about how you’ve grown British interest in the Civil War. As a Brit and a citizen of the world, why do you feel it’s important to study the Civil War?
P G-L: The question about the importance of studying the American Civil War is difficult to answer. The reasons for the American Civil War are still being discussed and written about today, which might give one answer at least. I would also add that the American Civil War could be said to have been an international war, with so many involved from Europe, including many from Great Britain. This might give personal interest to their descendants. Wars should not be forgotten, especially for the reasons why they happened in the first place.