Meeting of February 8, 2018

Jim Remsen on “Freedom-Seekers Turned Freedom-Fighters”

Local journalist Jim Remsen’s illustrated history talk, “Freedom-Seekers Turned Freedom-Fighters,” chronicles the experiences of a group of fugitive slaves who escaped southern bondage and dared to openly build new lives in the North. Once the Civil War came, these men and their sons left their safe haven in northeastern Pennsylvania and returned south, into the bowels of slavery, to fight for the Union. Their valor under fire helped to change many minds about blacks. Remsen’s new history book, Embattled Freedom, lifts these thirteen remarkable lives out of the shadows, while also shedding light on the racial politics and social codes they and their people endured in the divided North.

The fugitives’ safe haven was little Waverly, Pa., Remsen’s boyhood hometown. Now a Bala Cynwyd resident, and a retired editor and reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, he spent several years researching this story as a way to bring some overdue tribute to Waverly’s unsung “colored troops” and the white abolitionists who stood by them. Embattled Freedom (Sunbury Press) has been praised by Lackawanna Historical Society director Mary Ann Moran-Savakinus as “a fascinating history that needs to be shared.” Mark Bowden, New York Times bestselling author of Black Hawk Down, Killing Pablo and his latest, Hue 1968, calls it “a fine example of serious local history, which fleshes out in particulars the larger social issues over a century.” For more, visit embattledfreedom.org.

February 2018 Newsletter

Meeting of January 11, 2018

Matthew H. Bruce on “The Confederate Cruisers: The Confederacy’s Blue-Water Navy”

Even before the war began, the Confederacy-to-be, through its provisional legislature, recognized the need for a brown-water navy to keep ports open and patrol rivers, and a blue water navy to protect the shipping traffic. This led to moves, actually before secession, by the Confederacy’s provisional legislature to establish the basis for a navy, to name a secretary of the navy, and to send letters to any persons in the United States Navy who were deemed to have a Southern leaning to “come home” and join the Confederate Navy. Many took up on the invitation.

Early in the war, one of the “come-home” former Union Naval officers, now a Confederate officer, one Raphael Semmes, approached Navy Secretary Mallory with a proposal regarding how to end the war successfully. To wit, acquire a number of blue-water ships, to be converted to warships with which to assault the Union merchant marine, to an extent which would lead to a winnable suit for peace. Thus could the Confederacy attain a victory that wise heads could see was unlikely on the battlefield; this in spite of the somewhat wild-eyed view of the war-hawks.

Matthew H. Bruce is a retired teacher (forty-five years) at the high school and college/university levels, in the areas of mathematics and physics. Following finishing his baccalaureate degree, he completed military service in the Korean War, and then returned to pursue graduate work. He holds the Ph.D. degree from the Pennsylvania State University. He is retired from Temple University, where he taught statistics and research design, and physical science, and worked with intending science teachers.

Matt’s interest in the American Civil War goes back over fifty years, and he has been a long-time member of the Delaware Valley Civil War Round Table, and until recently a member of the Round Table’s Board. He teaches in the Round Table’s Civil War Institute, and looks forward to the expansion of the institute to include other U.S. military involvements such as WWI and WWII. He has done much writing on Civil War and other topics, and is currently involved in the preparation of a book on Civil War navies.

January 2018 Newsletter

Meeting of December 14, 2017

Walt Lafty on “Walt Whitman, the Civil War’s Poet Patriot”

Walt described how the Civil War impacted the writings of Walt Whitman and his contributions to the war effort.

For over 30 years, Walt Lafty Jr. has been an amateur genealogist and has researched three direct ancestors who served in the Civil War. With that information and a lifelong interest in history, he began studying and participating in Civil War history. Since that time, Walt joined various groups dedicated to preserving the memory of those ancestors and civil war history. Those groups include: Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), Bucks County CWRT, DELVAL CWRT, Old Baldy CWRT, and the G.A.R. Museum and Library.

Walt was born, raised, and currently lives in Philadelphia. After enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1968, he served 13 months in Vietnam with the 45th Military Intelligence Company and with the Combined Intelligence Center Vietnam (CICV). He became a Philadelphia Firefighter in 1975 and retired in 1999 to take a position with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s Bureau of Alcohol Education. In 2016 he retired as a supervisor from the PLCB.

In 1996 he earned a B.A.in Psychology from Holy Family University after eight years of part time courses. Walt is married with three children, one step child (deceased), and ten grandchildren.

December 2017 Newsletter

Meeting of November 9, 2017

James Scythes on “This will make a man of me: The Life and Letters of a Teenage Officer in the Civil War”

thomas-james-howellThis presentation focuses on the life of seventeen-year-old Thomas James Howell, who was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Tom Howell’s experiences give us a rare look at the war through the eyes of a teenage officer. The letters that he wrote home to his family tell the story of a young man coming of age in the army. As a young officer, he faced particular challenges as he sought to earn the respect of both the men he commanded and his superiors. Despite the challenges he faced, Howell believed that it was his duty to serve and by serving he would prove that he was a man. This study represents a valuable addition to Civil War literature by offering a unique perspective of the war as it was seen through the eyes of a teenage officer.

james-scythesJames Scythes earned a B.A. in history at Rowan University and has a Master of Arts in history from Villanova University. He is a tenure track Instructor of History at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. His research interests focus on antebellum America, American Civil War, and 19th century military history. Professor Scythes has published a number of encyclopedia articles, and in July 2016 Lehigh University Press published his first book, “This Will Make a Man of Me”: The Life and Letters of a Teenage Officer in the Civil War. He also serves on the Board of Trustees at the Gloucester County Historical Society, and is a member of the Old Baldy Civil War Round Table of Philadelphia.

November 2017 Newsletter

Lecture Series Announced

2017 Lecture Series at Camden County College — New Jersey in the Civil War

Tuesday evenings at 7 pm. Connector Building, Large Lecture Hall room 105.

September 12: Joanne Hamilton Rajoppi – Northern Women in the Aftermath of the Civil War: The Wives and Daughters of the Brunswick Boys

September 19: Dr. William Carrigan – Traitor State or Jersey Blue? New Jersey and the American Civil War

September 26: Film Screening, presented by Rich Mendoza – Called to Duty: The Civil War Training Camps of New Jersey

October 3: John G. Zinn – The Mutinous Regiment: The 33rd New Jersey in the Civil War

October 10: Gary D. Saretzky – Ere the Shadows Fade: New Jersey’s Civil War Era Photographers

October 17: Film Screening, presented by Robert Baumgartner – The General

Meeting of October 12, 2017

David O. Stewart on “Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy”

Impeached traces the explosive impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson to its roots in the social and political revolutions that rocked the South with the end of slavery and of the Civil War. As president after Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, not only failed to heal the nation’s wounds but rather rubbed them raw, ignoring widespread violence against the freed slaves and encouraging former rebels to resume political control of the Southern states. His high-handed actions were opposed by the equally angry and aggressive Congress, led by Rep. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, an ardent foe of slavery who aimed to rebuild American society on principles of equality and fairness.

David O. Stewart’s first book, The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution, was a Washington Post bestseller and won the Washington Writing Award as Best Book of 2007. Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy, was called “the best account of this troubled episode.” American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America, examines Burr’s Western expedition, which landed him on trial for treason. The Washington Post called Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America, a portrait “rich in empathy and understanding” by “an acknowledged master of narrative history.” David also writes fiction. Bloomberg View said The Lincoln Deception, about the John Wilkes Booth Conspiracy, was the best historical novel of 2013. The Washington Post described The Wilson Deception, set at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, as ““Another terrific Fraser and Cook mystery.” In its review of The Babe Ruth Deception in 2016, the Washington Times described David as “one of our best new writers of historical mysteries.” He is president of the Washington Independent Review of Books.

October 2017 Newsletter

Meeting of September 14, 2017

Bill Hughes on “The History of Old Baldy”

Bill spoke on the history of the Old Baldy Civil War Round Table. He has been gathering information and stories from older sources and has many pictures to display.

Bill attended Pfeiffer University and West Chester University. He has a Masters of Education and has taught and coached for 38 years. He spent 25 years as a volunteer fireman and six terms on school board. Bill first became interested in the Civil War about 1989 with visits to Harpers Ferry, Cedar Creek, Antietam, and Gettysburg. He belongs to the Civil War Trust and NRA. He is currently President of the Board of Directors for the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society. Bill joined Old Baldy in 1990 or 1991. He has published two books and written several articles for the Old Baldy newsletter.

September 2017 Newsletter

Meeting of August 10, 2017

Membership Show & Tell Night

Members brought historical treasure or collection to show and share:

  • Arlene Schnaare: Quilt collection
  • Bob Lynch: Personal letters of Capt. John Lynch, 106th PA
  • Jim Heenehan: WW1 artifact – contraband war materiel
  • Bill Hughes: CW era stamps and envelopes

August 2017 Newsletter

Meeting of July 13, 2017

Dr. Jennifer M. Murray presents “On A Great Battlefield: The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933-2013”

Dr. Murray provided a critical perspective to Gettysburg historiography by offering an in-depth exploration of the national military park and how the Gettysburg battlefield has evolved since the National Park Service acquired the site in August 1933. Haphazard landscape practices, promotion of tourism, encouragement of recreational pursuits, ill-defined policies of preserving cultural resources, and the inevitable turnover of administrators guided by very different preservation values regularly influenced the direction of the park and the presentation of the Civil War’s popular memory.

Dr. Jennifer M. Murray is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. She teaches a wide variety of course in 19th and 20th century American history. Murray’s most recent publication is On A Great Battlefield: The Making, Management, and Memory of Gettysburg National Military Park, 1933-2013, published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2014. Murray is also the author of The Civil War Begins, published by the U.S. Army’s Center of Military History in 2012. Murray is currently working on a biography of George Gordon Meade, tentatively titled Meade at War. In addition, Murray worked as a seasonal interpretive park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park for nine summers (2002-2010). She received her Ph.D. from Auburn University in 2010.

July 2017 Newsletter