Alice L Baumgartner on “South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War”
The Underground Railroad to the North promised salvation to many American slaves before the Civil War. But thousands of people in the south-central United States escaped slavery not by heading north but by crossing the southern border into Mexico, where slavery was abolished in 1837.
Based on research in twenty-seven archives in three countries, South to Freedom tells the story of why Mexico abolished slavery and how its increasingly radical antislavery policies fueled the sectional crisis in the United States. As enslaved people escaped across the Rio Grande, and the U.S. government failed to secure their return, slaveholders came to believe that their interests would be best protected outside of the Union. Mexico’s laws also had an impact beyond the borderlands. Southern politicians hoped that annexing Texas and invading Mexico in the 1840s would stop runaways and secure slavery’s future. Instead, the seizure of Alta California and Nuevo México upset the delicate political balance between free and slave states.
As U.S. Congressmen debated the status of slavery in the former Mexican territories, Northern Democrats balked at the prospect of reestablishing slavery where it had been prohibited. Abolition in Mexico thus undermined the norm of admitting slavery in southern territories while prohibiting it in northern ones—a norm that had kept sectionalism at bay since the Missouri Compromise.
Alice L. Baumgartner is assistant professor of history at the University of Southern California. She received an MPhil in history from Oxford, where she was a Rhodes scholar, and a PhD in history from Yale University. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
Bob Russo on “The Wounded Knee Massacre”
The Wounded Knee Massacre, often and inaccurately called the Battle of Wounded Knee, was a massacre of several hundred Lakota Sioux people by soldiers of the United States Army. The massacre took place on December 29, 1890, near Wounded Knee Creek on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
On the tragic morning of the massacre, members of U.S. 7th Cavalry entered the camp to disarm the Lakota. An elderly member of the tribe refused to give up his weapon while others began a tribal dance known as the Ghost Dance. In the struggle a shot was fired and the U.S. army began shooting at the Native Americans with Hotchkiss Guns from a nearby hillside. Lakota warriors fought back, but most had already been disarmed by the Army.
More than 250 Lakota men, women, and children were dead and over 50 others wounded. Other estimates place the number of Lakota dead at over 300. Twenty-five soldiers also died with over 35 wounded. Many Army casualties are thought to be from friendly fire. In a final insult over Twenty soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. In 2001, the National Congress of American Indians approved two resolutions denouncing the Medal of Honor awards and urged the U.S. government to rescind Medals.
The massacre ended the Indian Wars but it took forty years of treaty violations, battles, false promises and government intrusions and failures to reach the day of the massacre. In September 2019, after spending about two years reading about the history, Bob Russo, an Old Baldy and Delaware Valley CWRT member visited the site of the massacre with his wife, Carol.
Join Bob for the story of this horrific tragedy and the events that led up to it. Ties to Civil War personalities, a 1980 Supreme Court decision on ownership of the Black Hills and the genocidal words of an author of a book, that later became a historic and well-known motion picture, will be discussed.
Carol Simon Levin on “Reclaiming Our Voice: New Jersey’s Central Role in the Fight for Woman Suffrage”
Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, women had the right to vote in only one state, New Jersey, a right they would lose in 1807, and not win back for more than five generations. New Jersey’s role in the struggle to regain that right is largely overlooked.
It is well-known that Elizabeth Cady Stanton proclaimed “all men and women are created equal” at the Women’s Rights Convention of 1848 in Seneca Falls, NY. Few know that she lived in Tenafly in 1869, when she and Susan B. Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association and wrote the first three volumes of their History of Woman Suffrage.
Hear the stories of these and many other women with Jersey ties – including the Grimke sisters (who spoke out against slavery and for women’s rights from their home in Shrewsbury), Dr. Florence Spearing Randolph (chair of the NJ Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and executive board member on the NJ Woman Suffrage Association), Alice Low Turnbull Hopkins (who threw her considerable support behind Alice Paul’s Washington pickets), and Alice Paul, the dynamo who re-energized the movement for a federal amendment.
Carol Simon Levin is a retired librarian, author, storyteller and program presenter based in Bedminster. In 2016, she wrote a book, “Remembering The Ladies: From Patriots in Petticoats to Presidential Candidates,” about amazing American women, which was illustrated by 36 artists. It is an interactive book about lost stories of fascinating and forgotten women in American history. In addition to a coloring page, each entry includes a short biography, a fascinating fact and a quote by the woman. It includes recommendations for further reading for kids, teens, and adults, and suggestions for activities and activism and places to visit.
Ronald S. Coddington on “Faces of Civil War Nurses”
During the American Civil War, women on both sides of the conflict, radiating patriotic fervor equal to their male counterparts, contributed to the war effort in countless ways: forming charitable societies, becoming nurses, or even marching off to war as vivandières, unofficial attachés to the regiments.
In Faces of Civil War Nurses, Ronald S. Coddington turns his attention to the experiences of 77 women of all ages and walks of life who provided care during the war as nurses, aid workers, and vivandières. Their personal narratives are as unique as fingerprints: each provides a distinct entry point into the larger social history of the brutal and bloody conflict. Coddington tells these determined women’s stories through letters, diaries, pension files, and newspaper and government reports. Using identified tintypes and cartes de visite of women on both sides of the war, many of them never before published, Coddington uncovers the personal histories of each intrepid individual. Following their postwar stories, he also explains how the bonds they formed continued long after the cessation of hostilities.
The fifth volume in Coddington’s series on Civil War soldiers, this captivating microhistory will appeal to anyone with an interest in the Civil War, women’s studies, social history, nursing, or photography.
From 2001-2016, he authored Faces of War, a regular column in the Civil War News. Each month, Ron profiled a soldier, and each was illustrated with an original, wartime carte de visite photograph. His subjects were enlisted men and non-commissioned officers, and officers below the rank of colonel. Ron believes that appreciating the role of the volunteer soldier is key to understanding America’s greatest conflict. He writes, “The history of the Civil War is the stories of its soldiers and sailors.”
In 2004, a collection of columns became part of Ron’s first book, Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories. A companion volume, Faces of the Confederacy: An Album of Southern Soldiers and Their Stories, followed in 2008. Four years later, the publication of African American Faces of War: An Album marked the third book in the series. A fourth volume, Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors, was released in 2016. All are published by The Johns Hopkins University Press. His fifth and final volume in the series, Faces of Civil War Nurses, is scheduled to be released on Oct. 6, 2020.
Ron also wrote for the New York Times Disunion series from 2011-2014. His contributions documented the experiences of the enlisted men and line officers who participated in the Civil War. In 2013, he became editor and publisher of Military Images, a quarterly magazine dedicated to showcasing, interpreting and preserving early American photographs of soldiers and sailors.
Ron has participated as a speaker at numerous Civil War-related events, and at meetings for round tables and other organizations. A 1985 graduate of the University of Georgia, Ron lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his wife, Anne. He is currently an Editor for The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Mark R. Brewer on “Swim, Surrender or Die: The Union Army at the Battle Ball’s Bluff”
The operation was planned as a minor reconnaissance across the Potomac to establish whether the Confederates were occupying the strategically important position of Leesburg. Brigadier General Charles Pomeroy Stone commenced a raid, which resulted in a clash with enemy forces. A prominent U.S. Senator in uniform, Colonel Edward Baker, tried to reinforce the Union troops, but failed to ensure that there were enough boats for the river crossings, which were then delayed. Baker was killed, and Confederate reinforcements routed the rest of Stone’s expedition.
The Union Army forces under Major General George B. McClellan suffered a humiliating defeat. Although modest by later standards, the losses alarmed Congress, who then established the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, a body that would provoke years of bitter political infighting.
Mark Brewer holds an M.A. in U.S. History from Temple University, and taught history for many years at the public school, county college, and university levels. Though his ancestors all fought for the Union, and one was killed at Ball’s Bluff, Mark was a Confederate re-enactor from 1983 to 1990 (nothing to do with politics, rather that Confederate re-enactors are more laid back and a lot more fun!). He has published five books; two fantasy fiction novels and three works of history. His 2019 book on Ball’s Bluff is entitled Swim, Surrender or Die: The Union Army at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Mark and his wife Laurie reside in Pitman, NJ.
“My Favorite Book Night” hosted by Paul Prentiss
We would like members to take 5 to 6 minutes to describe a book they would like to share with friends and the reason why. We will then allow a minute or two for members to ask questions. It doesn’t have to be a Civil War book but something you think will be of interest to the Round Table members. The meeting will take place on Zoom and be moderated by Paul Prentiss. Hopefully we can have a dozen or so members share their titles.
Please email Paul with your name, book title, author, and a very brief description of the book (no more than two sentences). We will provide the list of books being discussed to the members with the Zoom meeting notice. Paul’s email address can be found in your Membership Roster.
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.
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.
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.