By John Coski
Katherine Clay “Kitty” Stiles died a century ago on October 7, 1916. Who was she and why should we care?
Since 1899 she had served as the vice-regent, or de facto administrator, for the Georgia Room of the Confederate Museum, predecessor to The Museum of the Confederacy and the American Civil War Museum. She helped make the Georgia Room one of the richest collections in the entire museum, focused not only on Georgia history, but also the history of the Confederate States Navy and the work of Cdr. Matthew Fontaine Maury.
“Miss Stiles came to Richmond from Savannah, Ga., many years ago,” read the Museum’s tribute to her. “She loved her home here, but her heart ever went out to her own Georgia people, a fact attested by her faithful work in the Room under her charge.” She was a child of the war. “To her, the war was not a struggle of half a century ago but a grief of yesterday, poignant and fresh,” read another tribute. “To talk with her of the days when she had seen Sherman’s Army crossing Georgia was to understand what war meant,” wrote historian and editor Douglas Southall Freeman on the 25th anniversary of the Museum’s opening in 1921.
This formal memorial tribute to her appeared in the Museum’s 1916 published Year Book. She placed in the Georgia Room one wartime document relating to her own life: a March 25, 1862 pass from Macon, Georgia, to Savannah (misspelling her surname as Styles). That pass is among the documents transferred recently to the Virginia Historical Society, where they will be accessible for research and, eventually, digitized and available on line.