Meeting of May 9, 2024

Join us at 7:15 PM on Thursday, May 9, in Camden County College’s William G. Rohrer Center, 1889 Marlton Pike East, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003. We will meet at The Kettle & Grill, 230 N Maple Ave, Marlton, NJ 08053 (Crispin Square Shopping Center) at 5:30 PM before the meeting for dinner and fellowship. The program will also be simulcast on Zoom for the benefit of those members and friends who are unable to attend; please email at least 24 hours prior to request Zoom access. This month’s topic is

Victor Vignola on “Contrasts in Command: The Battle of Fair Oaks”

Surprisingly little has been written about the important Battle of Fair Oaks (and the simultaneous Seven Pines). The bloody two-day affair (May 31-June 1, 1862), fought on the doorstep of the Confederate capital, was the first major battle in the Eastern Theater since Bull Run/Manassas the previous summer. It left more than 11,000 casualties in its wake and the primary Southern army without its commander. The possession of Richmond hung in the balance. Victor Vignola’s Contrasts in Command, which is centered around the Fair Oaks fighting, rectifies this gap in the literature.

Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan marched his Army of the Potomac up the Virginia Peninsula during the spring weeks of 1862 before committing a near-fatal error by placing his inexperienced IV Corps at the tip of the spear south of the flood-prone Chickahominy River. Opposing McClellan at the head of the Virginia army was Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who had fallen back without offering much in the way of opposition. When the opportunity to strike beckoned, Johnston crafted an overly complex attack plan to crush the exposed IV Corps. A series of bungled Confederate marches, piecemeal assaults, and a lack of assertive leadership doomed the Southern plan. One of the wounded late in the day on May 31 was Gen. Johnston, whose injury led to the appointment of Gen. Robert E. Lee to take his place—a decision that changed the course of the entire Civil War.

Victor Vignola is a lifelong student of the Civil War and has written articles for publication in North and South Magazine and other forums. Victor delivers historical programs, conducts tours, and regularly visits various Civil War sites. Vic’s career included executive-level labor and interagency relations for the Office of Mental Health in New York State. He lives with his family in Orange County, New York, home of the 124th New York “Orange Blossoms” Regiment.

Meeting of June 13, 2024

Join us at 7:15 PM on Thursday, June 13, in Camden County College’s William G. Rohrer Center, 1889 Marlton Pike East, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003. We will meet at The Kettle & Grill, 230 N Maple Ave, Marlton, NJ 08053 (Crispin Square Shopping Center) at 5:30 PM before the meeting for dinner and fellowship. The program will also be simulcast on Zoom for the benefit of those members and friends who are unable to attend; please email at least 24 hours prior to request Zoom access. This month’s topic is

James Scythes on “Letters to Lizzie: The Story of 16 Men in the Civil War and the One Woman Who Connected Them All”

During the American Civil War, soldiers frequently wrote letters to friends and family members as a way of maintaining their connections to loved ones at home. However, most of the published collections of Civil War letters contain correspondence between just two individuals. Letters to Lizzie: The Story of Sixteen Men in the Civil War and the One Woman Who Connected Them All contains a collection of letters exchanged between 16 men—15 soldiers and a quartermaster at a military hospital—and one young woman, Lizzie Brick. Since Lizzie herself could not bear arms, she took up her pen and through ongoing correspondence helped these Union soldiers sustain their motivation for the cause.

James M. Scythes is assistant professor of history at West Chester University. He has written extensively on topics related to the Civil War era and is the author of This Will Make a Man of Me: The Life and Letters of a Teenage Officer in the Civil War.

Professor Scythes earned a B.A. in history at Rowan University and holds a Master of Arts in history from Villanova University. He teaches all of the 100-level History courses and has taught a course on the American Civil War. Professor Scythes also serves as a supervisor of student teachers. 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 2016 his first book, “This Will Make a Man of Me”: The Life and Letters of a Teenage Officer in the Civil War. He is also President of the Gloucester County NJ Historical Society.

Meeting of July 11, 2024

Join us at 7:15 PM on Thursday, July 11, in Camden County College’s William G. Rohrer Center, 1889 Marlton Pike East, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003. We will meet at The Kettle & Grill, 230 N Maple Ave, Marlton, NJ 08053 (Crispin Square Shopping Center) at 5:30 PM before the meeting for dinner and fellowship. The program will also be simulcast on Zoom for the benefit of those members and friends who are unable to attend; please email at least 24 hours prior to request Zoom access. This month’s topic is

Scott Mingus on “Unceasing Fury: Texans at the Battle of Chickamauga”

After Gettysburg, it was the Civil War’s largest battle, but until recently, little of consequence had been written about Chickamauga. You can count on one hand the number of authors who have tackled Chickamauga in any real depth, and most of their works cover the entire battle. Left unmined and mostly forgotten are the experiences of specific brigades, regiments, and state-affiliated troops. Scott Mingus and Joseph Owen’s Unceasing Fury: Texans at the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18–20, 1863, is the first full-length book to examine in detail the role of troops from the Lone Star State.

Texas troops fought in almost every major sector of the sprawling Chickamauga battlefield, from the first attacks on September 18 on the bridges spanning the creek to the final attack on Snodgrass Hill on September 20. Fortunately, many of the survivors left vivid descriptions of battle action, the anguish of losing friends, the pain and loneliness of being so far away from home, and their often-colorful opinions of their generals.

Scott Mingus, a scientist and consultant in the global pulp & paper industry, holds patents in self-adhesive postage stamps and bar code labels. The Ohio native graduated from the Paper Science & Engineering program at Miami University. He has written 19 Civil War and Underground Railroad books. His biography Confederate General William “Extra Billy” Smith won multiple awards, including the Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr. Literary Award for Confederate history. He has also written articles for many publications including Gettysburg Magazine.

Arlene Schnaare — Member Profile

Before joining the Old Baldy Civil War Round Table nine years ago, Arlene Schnaare believed everything she was told about the American Civil War. Case in point: the old legend that coded messages were embedded in quilts hung on a fence or clothesline along the Underground Railroad to direct runaway slaves to safe houses and routes to freedom. It is an exciting tale, one that is easy to believe as it has been told and written as truth for generations. But the story that quilts contained secret codes before and during the Civil War has been entirely dismissed by history scholars and quilt historians. A bear paw design sewn into a quilt did not mean a slave should follow an animal trail into the woods to find water and food, or that a quilt with a monkey wrench block signaled slaves to start gathering tools for a planned escape North. There is simply no evidence of truth, which came as a surprise to the quilt-making Arlene Schnaare. “Before Old Baldy, I believed all the stories I knew about the Civil War. The quilts? It is a feel-good story but it’s not true. There are lots of fallacies in Civil War history. I’m learning to separate truth from fiction.”

Arlene was not interested in the Civil War, or quilts, when she was living in St. Louis, Missouri, her birthplace. After graduating from Mercy High School, Arlene enrolled in a three-year registered nurse program at St. John’s School of Nursing and worked at its affiliate, St. John’s Hospital. Across the street was the St. Louis College of Pharmacy where she met a student named Roger Schnaare. They married in 1960.

The couple moved to Indiana for Roger’s graduate studies at Purdue University and lived there for four years. They moved back to St. Louis, stayed for three years, and then moved east to Turnersville, New Jersey. They have three children: Tim, Mary and Theresa; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Arlene and Roger currently reside in Haddonfield.

After she retired from nursing, Arlene went to work part-time at a needlepoint store and began an interest in the craft as well as cross stitch. Then she developed an overwhelming love of quilting. “I call it a disease. I’ve made 35 so far. I’m just fascinated by the colors and designs.” Although Arlene is currently working on a copy of an 1820 quilt, Civil War reproduction quilts are her forte. In fact, Arlene already has all the materials she needs to make a reproduction of a quilt that reportedly hung in Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home at Knob Creek in Kentucky. “I promised Abe I would do it.”

It was through quilting that Arlene developed an interest in the Civil War, an era she says she knew little about. She and Roger have visited the Gettysburg Battlefield and also made a trip to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell. She was in awe of the history around her. “I touched the Liberty Bell. At Gettysburg I stood there. I stood there.”

Arlene was taking continuing education classes at The Center at Camden County College when she first bumped into Richard Jankowski and Frank Barletta of Old Baldy. After looking over a brochure Rich handed her, Arlene asked Frank if a test was required to get into the group. He replied no and encouraged her to attend a meeting. It was one of the best decisions she had ever made. “Old Baldy has been good for me. Walking across the campus I feel like I’m 19 again. I like the feeling of being there. Everyone is so smart about the Civil War.” Arlene spoke about her reproduction quilt collection at an OB meeting in 2017.

Soon after she joined Old Baldy, Arlene and member Priscilla Gabosch were recruited to create a membership committee; their first job was to convert the old paper records to a computer-based system. Both women have done a wonderful job with the membership program. Their spreadsheet format is still in use today.

Profile written by Kim Weaver

Gary Salkind — Member Profile

Gary Salkind was born in Wynnefield, Philadelphia on July 30th, 1953. He grew up in the area, living in Wynnewood, Havertown, Overbrook Park, and Drexel Hill. He went to Lower Merion High School in Ardmore and graduated in 1971. Gary continued his education at Saint Joseph’s University and then at Temple University School of Medicine. He was a practicing physician who taught at a residency program; worked at the Philadelphia Nursing Home; and performed house calls for patients until he retired in 2019.

Gary’s family consists of his wife, two children, four grandchildren, and a sister and her family. He and his wife Mindy have been married for 45 years. They met in 1975 at a Messianic Jewish congregation in Philadelphia.

In retirement, Gary has found more time to spend on his hobbies. He enjoys reading about his historical interests and visiting historic sites. He and Mindy are members of the Tapestry Historic Dance Ensemble, a group that performs social dances of different periods of history.

Ever since he was a child, Gary has had a love for history. He and his childhood friends would act out World War II fighting. Some of his main interests include military technology and the experiences of common soldiers. He says it is convenient to love Civil War history because the battlefields are near enough to visit.

Gary became a part of the Old Baldy Civil War Round Table in 2020 after he discovered an old OB pamphlet when he was cleaning out his files. He searched online for more information and found that he could join the meetings virtually. He says membership now has the ability to expand regardless of where the meetings take place.

Gary is a member of the Friends of Gettysburg, a group that helps raise funds to preserve and maintain the battlefield. He is also a member of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.

Paul Prentiss — Member Profile

“Since the fifth grade I wanted to join the Navy like my dad and granddad. By the seventh grade, I really liked mechanical things like ships and airplanes and wanted to go into engineering to design and build them.” To make his goals a reality Salem, Massachusetts native Paul Prentiss would need opportunity, intelligence, hard work, and to love two things: an adventurous woman, and shiny things that go “bang.”

At the end of a four-year Navy ROTC scholarship, Paul graduated from the University of Michigan Physics program, and the Naval War College in Rhode Island. After he was commissioned as an ensign he went west to California, and throughout his service was able to visit many worldwide sites where extraordinary events unfolded including Manilla Bay, Pearl Harbor, Inchon, and his favorite, Yokosuka, Japan. Commodore Perry’s “Black Fleet” arrived very close to the city in 1853. Afterward, to stop the incursion of foreigners, a series of fortifications were started and in use through 1945. “Exploring these historic structures was exhilarating, dangerous, and very rewarding. Sometimes we were able to talk with the locals and get their perspective of WWII and the subsequent occupation.”

In March 2022 U.S. Navy Captain Paul Prentiss retired after spending 43 years supporting the active Navy, Naval Reserve, and working/supporting Lockheed Martin. He was a surface warfare officer specializing in combat systems and then as a civilian continued in the same career. He also recently retired as a chief scientist for a national science and technology company. The history of technology is one subject Paul finds very fascinating. “Most of my reading and study concentrate from the Industrial Revolution (1760s) to the present. I strive to understand why and how technology was created to solve problems.”

As a nine-year member and trustee of the Old Baldy Civil War Roundtable, Paul has helped us find the best solutions for the toughest challenges. Because of his research and writing skills, the Roundtable was selected to receive the 2022 Wallace L. Rueckel Innovation Award by the Civil War Roundtable Congress. The award is given to recognize a Civil War Round Table for its creative, effective, and inventive programs that provide value to its members and community. “This is really a proud moment for Old Baldy. Our group has worked hard to improve membership experience, so we really value and respect this honor.”

Paul found Old Baldy when member Marty Wilensky, pulling a secret recruiting trick, asked Paul to accompany him to a meeting. “I was very excited and did a lot of online work researching the Sultana Disaster of 1865, getting ready for an in-depth discussion. I really enjoyed the presentation (by Don Wiles) and the friendliness of the group. I joined the very next meeting.”

Paul has written several articles for the newsletter, and presented to the Roundtable a very interesting story about a distant cousin and his last assignment on board the USS Monongahela. In “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” — Admiral David Farragut and the Battle of Mobile Bay August 5, 1864 we learned of Lt. Roderick Prentiss who participated in the Battle of Mobile Bay as executive officer aboard the steam screw sloop, and who was struck by flying splinters caused by cannon fire from Fort Morgan. He subsequently died of his wounds the next day at the age of 24. Paul has learned that some Prentiss family papers were donated to Montana State University. “I was able to get copies of family letters, fellow officer letters of condolence and Navy documents to learn what happened.”

Today, family for Paul includes his wife, Susan, and their son, Sean, who is getting married in November. Paul and Susan have graciously hosted Old Baldy picnics at their home in Marlton, New Jersey. The couple have been married for 39 beautiful years, first by a Navy Chaplain in Alameda, California and then again in Paul’s home parish. “Saying the vows twice really tied the knot tight!”

Paul is a Samaritan Hospice volunteer, STEM mentor, Ben Franklin American Legion Post 405 of Philadelphia finance office volunteer, and an active member of the Coastal Defense Study
Group. If you happen to have an upright bass or a bass guitar laying around you might ask Paul to play a number — he was once a member of the Boston musician’s union and played back-up for Bobby Hebb’s second album. (Remember Hebb’s ‘66 hit, “Sunny?”)

Profile written by Kim Weaver

Susan Kovacs — Member Profile

It was 1970, the year before Allentown–born Susan Kovacs would graduate from Mansfield University with a B.S.Ed. in secondary education–social studies, and the U.S. Peace Corps was holding an informational event on campus. Susan went, was encouraged by what she heard, and applied to the volunteer program in her senior year. When the invitation to serve arrived, Susan found out that she was going to be teaching English as a second language (ESL) for two years overseas. Where overseas? Majuro in the Marshall Islands (Federated States of Micronesia). “I said, ‘Where in the heck is Micronesia?’” Susan’s father, a WWII U.S. Marine veteran, pulled out a map and showed her. He knew, of course, that just after WWII ended the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear tests and detonated the first hydrogen bomb in the Marshall Islands. Still, Susan trained for three months in Hilo, Hawaii, learning a new language and becoming familiar with food options in her host country. One week after training was completed, Susan, now an unofficial U.S. ambassador of goodwill, headed to the Islands. “Having the ability to travel during the summer of 1972 throughout several island groupings of Micronesia, I was able to walk North Field on the island of Tinian. This was the departure point during WWII for the B–29 bombers Enola Gay and Bockscar, which carried the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

After Susan returned to the states in 1973, she held a number of retail management and banking positions, and in 1985 earned a B.A. in business administration–accounting from DeSales University. Across the street from her banking job in downtown Bethlehem was Pentamation Enterprises (now PowerSchool), a provider of cloud–based software in K-12 education. The company hired Susan away from the bank, where she was training tellers, to train school districts on its software. To prove how much she loved her job, Susan stayed on for 35 years. She retired in 2022.

So, why did Susan Kovacs go into the teaching and education field in the first place? “I wanted to be a history teacher. In 7th grade I had Mr. Richard Kantor for American history who made the subject so exciting and fascinating. And throughout high school and college, I never had a history teacher that could match his skills and passion for the subject and I found that disappointing.”

Susan continues to be a student of history. She came to the Old Baldy CWRT in 2008 through her beloved late husband Michael Cavanaugh, a founding member of OB who served over the years as treasurer, program chairman and twice president. They had been married for 14 years when Michael died January 7, 2020. “What a wonderful opportunity it has been to meet individuals, authors and historians with similar interests.” Susan is also a member of the Civil War Roundtable of Eastern Pennsylvania. She says she is interested in the American Civil War because it was a changing moment in the history of our country. “And it is a war that did not create separate countries, as has happened in other parts of the world, but kept the country intact as one nation.”

Susan’s biggest hobby is reading and that includes various books and biographies related to the Civil War. Her two most favorite books have been Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam by Stephen W. Sears and Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Bethlehem has a very active arts and cultural scene and Susan enjoys being part of it. There are jazz concerts at Lehigh University Zoellner Arts Center as well as classical concerts presented by the Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra and Miller Symphony Hall. “And in the summer you can find me at the Bethlehem Rose Garden listening to Sunday evening local band and jazz groups.”

Profile by Kim Weaver

Meeting of April 11, 2024

James Jewell on “Agents of Empire: The 1st Orgeon Cavalry and the Opening of the Interior Pacific Northwest during the Civil War”

Agents of Empire expands the historiographical scope of Civil War studies to include the war’s intersection with the history of the American West, demonstrating how the war was transcontinental in scope. Much more than a traditional Civil War regimental history, James Robbins Jewell’s work delves into the operational and social conditions under which the First Oregon Cavalry Regiment was formed. In response to ongoing tensions and violent interactions with Native peoples determined to protect their way of life and lands, Colonel George Wright, head of the military’s District of Oregon, asked the governor of Oregon to form a voluntary cavalry unit to protect white settlers and farmers. By using local volunteers, and later two additional regiments of infantry from the region, the federal government was able to draw from the majority of Regular Army troops stationed in the Pacific Northwest, who were eventually sent to fight Confederate forces east of the Mississippi River.

Had the First Oregon Cavalry failed to fulfill its responsibilities, the federal government would have had to recall Union forces from other threatened areas and send them to Oregon and Washington Territory to quell secessionist unrest and Indigenous resistance to land theft, resource appropriation, and murder. The First Oregon Cavalry ensured settlers’ security in the Union’s farthest northwest corner, thereby contributing to the Union cause.

James Robbins Jewell is a professor of history and co-chair of the Social and Behavioral Science Division at North Idaho College. He is the editor of On Duty in the Pacific Northwest during the Civil War: Correspondence and Reminiscences of the First Oregon Cavalry Regiment.

Dr. Jewell is an active scholar, with a primary emphasis on military history. Through his more than two dozen published works he has focused on topics as wide ranging as the role played by Chinese immigrants in the Pacific Northwest economy in the late 1800s and early 1900s, contemporary Native American dance, the Civil War, the American West, WWI, WWII and the First Iraq War.