Meeting of August 13, 2020

Join us at 7:15 PM on Thursday, August 13, for an online web conference (no physical meeting). Members will receive ZOOM dial-in instructions via email. This month’s topic is

Kevin M. Levin on “Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth”

More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, scores of websites, articles, and organizations repeat claims that anywhere between 500 and 100,000 free and enslaved African Americans fought willingly as soldiers in the Confederate army. But as Kevin M. Levin argues in this carefully researched book, such claims would have shocked anyone who served in the army during the war itself. Levin explains that imprecise contemporary accounts, poorly understood primary-source material, and other misrepresentations helped fuel the rise of the black Confederate myth.

Kevin M. Levin is a historian and educator based in Boston, Massachusetts, who specializes in the history and memory of the American Civil War. He holds M.A. degrees in Philosophy from the University of Maryland at College Park and in History from the University of Richmond.

Meeting of September 10, 2020

Join us at 7:15 PM on Thursday, September 10, for an online web conference (no physical meeting). Members will receive ZOOM dial-in instructions via email. This month’s topic is

Amy Murrell Taylor on “Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps”

The Civil War was just days old when the first enslaved men, women, and children began fleeing their plantations to seek refuge inside the lines of the Union army as it moved deep into the heart of the Confederacy. In the years that followed, hundreds of thousands more followed in a mass exodus from slavery that would destroy the system once and for all. Drawing on an extraordinary survey of slave refugee camps throughout the country, Embattled Freedom reveals as never before the everyday experiences of these refugees from slavery as they made their way through the vast landscape of army-supervised camps that emerged during the war.

Amy Murrell Taylor, Wednesday June 27, 2018, in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Mahan

Dr. Taylor’s research focuses on the social and cultural history of the U.S. South in the 19th century. Her latest book, Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (UNC Press, 2018), has received multiple awards including the Merle Curti Social History Award and the Avery O. Craven Award, both from the Organization of American Historians, as well as the Tom Watson Brown Book Award from the Society of Civil War Historians, and the Nau Book Prize from the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History. It has also been awarded the Frederick Douglass Book Prize given by the Gilder Lehrman Center for for the Study of Slavery, Abolition, and Resistance, Yale University, and was short listed for the Stone Book Award given by the Museum of African American History.

She previously examined families divided by national loyalties in The Divided Family in Civil War America (UNC Press, 2005). Taylor is the co-editor, with Stephen Berry, of the “UnCivil Wars” series with the University of Georgia Press, as well as an editorial advisory board member of the Civil War Monitor magazine and a past member of the board of editors of the Journal of Southern History. She is also involved in a variety of public history and historic preservation projects in central Kentucky.

Meeting of July 9, 2020

Roseann Bacha-Garza on “The Civil War on the Rio Grande: 1846-1876”

Long known as a place of cross-border intrigue, the Rio Grande’s unique role in the history of the American Civil War has been largely forgotten or overlooked. Few know of the dramatic events that took place here or the complex history of ethnic tensions and international intrigue and the clash of colorful characters that marked the unfolding and aftermath of the Civil War in the Lone Star State.

To understand the American Civil War in Texas also requires an understanding of the history of Mexico. The Civil War on the Rio Grande focuses on the region’s forced annexation from Mexico in 1848 through the Civil War and Reconstruction. In a very real sense, the Lower Rio Grande Valley was a microcosm not only of the United States but also of increasing globalization as revealed by the intersections of races, cultures, economic forces, historical dynamics, and individual destinies.

Roseann Bacha-Garza serves as program manager for the Community Historical Archaeology Project with Schools (CHAPS) Program at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She is the coauthor of Blue and Gray on the Border: The Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail and coeditor of The Native American Peoples of South Texas. She resides in McAllen, Texas.

July 2020 Newsletter

Meeting of June 29, 2020

Richard R. Schaus on “Lee Is Trapped, and Must Be Taken: Eleven Fateful Days After Gettysburg, July 4–14, 1863”

Lee is Trapped, by Thomas J. Ryan and Richard R. Schaus, was the winner of the 2017 Edwin C. Bearss Scholarly Research Award, and the 2019 Hugh G. Earnhart Civil War Scholarship Award from the Mahoning Valley Civil War Round Table. The book focuses on the immediate aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg and addresses how Maj. Gen. George G. Meade organized and motivated his Army of the Potomac in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s mandate to bring about the “literal or substantial destruction” of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s retreating Army of Northern Virginia. As far as the president was concerned, if Meade aggressively pursued and confronted Lee before he could escape across the flooded Potomac River, “the rebellion would be over.”

Richard R. Schaus, Sergeant Major, US Army (Ret.), served on active duty for more than 30 years in a variety of army and joint military intelligence assignments both at home and abroad. Rick is a lifelong student of the Civil War and American military history, and the Gettysburg Campaign in particular.

Meeting of June 11, 2020

Bobby Jorgensen on “The Federal Bridging Operation at Fredericksburg”

December 1862 found Union Major General Ambrose Burnside’s winter campaign in Virginia stalled and at risk. Expanding upon a campaign plan he had originally proposed to his predecessor, Burnside had set off on a campaign to outmaneuver the Army of Northern Virginia en route to Richmond. Key to this advance was securing the city of Fredericksburg. Initially Burnside had stolen a march on his adversary and arrived on the outskirts of the city unopposed. However, as November turned to December, logistical delays combined with unfavorable topographic and meteorological conditions to delay Burnside’s army on the northeastern bank of the Rappahannock River while the Army of Northern Virginia began concentrating on the opposite bank and around the city. With the elements of speed and surprise no longer on his side, Burnside began modifying his campaign plan to include a deliberate river crossing onto an enemy held shore where he had previously expected to cross unopposed.

Bobby Jorgensen works in the financial services industry in New York City. Prior to joining the banking world he served as a combat engineer officer in the United States Marine Corps, where he participated in a number of gap crossing operations. He still serves today as a Major in the Marine Corps Reserve.

June 2020 Newsletter

Meeting of May 26, 2020

John Quarstein discusses his book “Big Bethel: The First Battle”.

On June 10, 1861, one of the first military engagements of the American Civil War took place at Big Bethel, Virginia. Confederate troops occupied the area around Big Bethel and Little Bethel Churches from which they would reconnoiter the Union positions around Hampton and Old Point. The Union Army, tired of the incursions, determined to put a stop to them.

John V. Quarstein is an award-winning author, historian and preservationist. He served for 30 years as director of the Virginia War Museum, and is the director emeritus of the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Virginia. Quarstein is the author of 15 books and six PBS documentaries. His books include the Big Bethel: The First Battle (2011) and the Henry Adams prize winning The Monitor Boys: The Crew of the Union’s First Ironclad (2010).

Meeting of May 14, 2020

Drew Gruber on “The Battle of Williamsburg, Forgotten Now and Then”

The Battle of Williamsburg took place on May 5, 1862, in York County, James City County, and Williamsburg, Virginia. It was the first pitched battle of the Peninsula Campaign, in which nearly 41,000 Federals and 32,000 Confederates were engaged, fighting an inconclusive battle that ended with the Confederates continuing their withdrawal. Drew’s presentation describes the battle with specific focus on personal stories and the New Jersey brigade, as well as key factors as to why the battlefield has been largely developed and forgotten.

Drew A. Gruber is the Executive Director of Civil War Trails which connects visitors to over 1200 sites across six states. He is also the acting Director for the Williamsburg Battlefield Association and served a three year term on the Board of Historic Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia. A native of Ocean County New Jersey, he lives today in Williamsburg, Virginia with his wife Kate.

May 2020 Newsletter

Special Meeting of April 29, 2020

Ron Kirkwood on “Women at the George Spangler Farm XI Corps Hospital – Battle of Gettysburg”

The United States government wasn’t prepared for the human carnage when two giant armies left behind 20,000 wounded, suffering, maimed and dying Union and Confederate men after the Battle of Gettysburg. As a result, men were dying because of a lack of medical care, food and other essential supplies. And then civilians stepped in, especially women. Learn how women volunteered and played a major role in saving the day and lives at one farm with the online PowerPoint presentation “Women at the George Spangler Farm XI Corps Hospital – Battle of Gettysburg” by author Ron Kirkwood.

Meeting of April 9, 2020

Hampton Newsome on “The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864”

On a cold day in early January 1864, Robert E. Lee wrote to Confederate president Jefferson Davis “The time is at hand when, if an attempt can be made to capture the enemy’s forces at New Berne, it should be done.” Over the next few months, Lee’s dispatch would precipitate a momentous series of events as the Confederates, threatened by a supply crisis and an emerging peace movement, sought to seize Federal bases in eastern North Carolina. This is the story of these operations; the late war Confederate resurgence in the Old North State.

Hampton Newsome is an attorney residing in Arlington, Virginia. He holds a Bachelors in Public Policy from Duke University, a Masters in City/Urban, Community and Regional Planning from the University of Virginia School of Architecture, and his JD from the University of Virginia Law School.

Hampton is the author of Richmond Must Fall, covering the October 1864 Richmond–Petersburg campaign, and was recognized as a best book of 2013 by the Civil War Monitor. His book The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January–May 1864 was recently named as the Best Book of the Year for 2019 by the Civil War Books and Authors blog. He also maintains his own blog entitled “Ransack Garret and Closet.”

April 2020 Newsletter

Meeting of March 12, 2020

Paul Prentiss on “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead! – Admiral David Farragut and Battle of Mobile Bay August 5, 1864”

In the spring of 1864 the Southern heartland was still intact from the Shenandoah Valley to the red clay hills of Georgia. Richmond, Atlanta, along with the seaport cities of Mobile, Charleston, and Wilmington were thriving despite the Union Navy blockade. The effects of the Anaconda Strategy were felt but the impact was more an inconvenience than true suffering. West of the Mississippi the situation was very much the same except for New Orleans and a few Union garrisons on the coast. In the North the high hopes that followed victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg were turning into despair. The Northern electorate blamed President Lincoln for the mismanagement of the war and the November elections were looming. If the Confederates could deny the North a major military victory and hold out until the elections, it was a real possibility the South could win the war through a negotiated peace. Also, any Confederate victory could strengthen the northern Peace Democrat candidate George McClellan’s bid for the presidency.

Just how much did the Battle of Mobile Bay affect the national stage at this critical time? Some argue the victory helped Lincoln’s campaign win the presidency while others claim the closure of the port of Mobile hastened the economic defeat of the South and had little actual impact on the election. This presentation will set the scene, discuss major players, critique the strategy and tactics and debate the battle’s impact.

Paul Prentiss is a retired Navy Captain and Chief Scientist for a national science and technology company. The Massachusetts native graduated from the University of Michigan Physics program and Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. While serving in the Navy he was able to visit many worldwide historic sites and tread the ground where extraordinary events unfolded. Paul and his wife Susan live in nearby Marlton, NJ. He is a volunteer STEM mentor, trustee for the Old Baldy Civil War Roundtable of Philadelphia and active member of the Coastal Defense Study Group. His distant cousin, LT Roderick Prentiss, participated in the Battle of Mobile Bay as Executive Officer aboard the USS Monongahela where he was struck by flying splinters caused by cannon fire from Fort Morgan and subsequently died of his wounds.

March 2020 Newsletter