Meeting of March 14, 2024

John Reeves on “Soldier of Destiny: Slavery, Secession, and the Redemption of Ulysses S. Grant”

Soldier of Destiny is about the rise of Ulysses S. Grant. Captain Ulysses S. Grant, an obscure army officer who was expelled for alcohol abuse in 1854, rose to become general-in-chief of the United States Army in 1864. What accounts for this astonishing turn-around during this extraordinary decade? Was it destiny? Or was he just an ordinary man, opportunistically benefiting from the turmoil of the Civil War to advance to the highest military rank?

Soldier of Destiny reveals that Grant always possessed the latent abilities of a skilled commander—and he was able to develop these skills out West without the overwhelming pressure faced by more senior commanders in the Eastern theater at the beginning of the Civil War. Grant was a true Westerner himself and it was his experience in the West—before and during the Civil War—that was central to his rise.

John Reeves is the author of A Fire in the Wilderness and The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee. He has taught European and American history at Lehman College, Bronx Community College, and Southbank University in London. John received an MA in European History from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. You can learn more about him at john-reeves.com. He lives near Washington, DC.

Meeting of February 8, 2024

Drew Gruber on “Decimus Et Ultimus Barziza”

Decimus Et Ultimus Barziza had a life which as his name implies, was anything but typical. Join Drew Gruber as you follow this soldiers journey from his hometown of Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, through his enlistment with the famous Fourth Texas Infantry, his daring escape from a Union POW camp, and his equally boisterous post-war shenanigans. It’s a story you won’t soon forget.

Drew is the Executive Director of Civil War Trails, the world’s largest “open air museum” offering over 1,500 sites across six states. He sits on the board of the Williamsburg Battlefield Association and previously served as member of the Commonwealth’s Board of Historic Resources. In 2013 he was the recipient of the Lawrence T. Jones III Research Fellowship in Texas Civil War History. When he’s not working in Civil War land he loves brown spiritus liquors, tinkering with his old car, gardening and he is very curious about fly fishing.

Meeting of January 11, 2024

Michael Kirschner on “The Second Wisconsin at Gettysburg”

Philo Wright’s original bullet-riddled hat in the collection of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

In the last minutes of his life on the morning of July 1, 1863, Major General John Reynolds ordered a single regiment, the Second Wisconsin, into Herbst Woods on McPherson Ridge to attack a Confederate brigade that was taking possession of the woods, a key feature of the developing battlefield. Archer’s Brigade shot down 100 of the 300 Wisconsin men before they had a chance to fire a shot. Nonetheless, the remaining 200 continued their advance into the teeth of a superior enemy force, thereby setting the stage for a smashing victory over Archer’s Brigade at Willoughby Run. Where had these men come from? What had the men endured during their two years of service before finding themselves alone at a critical time on a crucial spot of the Gettysburg battlefield? The dogged fighting qualities exhibited by the Second Wisconsin at Gettysburg illustrate why it ended the war suffering the highest percentage of battlefield deaths (killed and died of wounds) of any unit that fought for the Union.

This solo charge of the Second Wisconsin into Herbst Woods is little known and even less appreciated, but it likely prevented the battle of Gettysburg from being lost by the Union in the opening minutes of the infantry versus infantry portion of the battle.

Michael Kirschner is a retired patent attorney who has been researching the Second Wisconsin for over a decade after serendipitously learning that his wife’s great-great grandfather, Philo Wright, was the first flag bearer of the Second Wisconsin at Gettysburg. His research was prompted by the realization that the regiment has not had a regimental history written in the modern era despite its illustrious fighting record.

Mike Kalichak — Member Profile

Mike Kalichak was born in Chester, Pennsylvania in December of 1947. He grew up in the same area as an only child and went to St. James Catholic High School. After graduating in 1965, he attended Widener University, which is also in Chester. From 1970 to 1975, he served in the U.S. Navy and the Navy Reserve, where he performed sea duty and was deployed overseas in 1971 and 1972. Following his military service, he studied law at Villanova Law School and began working for the federal government as a Staff Attorney for the Social Security Administration. He retired from this job in 1999, and in 2001 he became a part-time employee at the Fort Mifflin Historic Site as a tour guide. He continues to work there to this day, and the pictures provided are of him as a tour guide there.

Mike has been interested in the Civil War since he was 13 years old when in 1961 his family took a trip to Gettysburg. Also, he became interested in the media about the Civil War that was being shared during the hundred year anniversary of the war from 1961 to 1965. Multiple television programs pertaining to the Civil War were aired in the spring and summer of 1961, and he watched them when they came out. He also read about the Civil War in the Philadelphia Inquirer when it published a section about it in April 1961. Another interest of Mike’s is model trains, which he also started to enjoy when he was 13 years old. He currently has a H.O. scale model train layout in his attic.

Before the Old Baldy Round Table meetings moved to New Jersey, he was a member and attended meetings at the Civil War museum on Pine Street in Philadelphia. He lost contact when that museum closed, but was able to get back in touch and rejoin about seven years ago when the meetings moved to Camden County Community College. He enjoys listening to the lectures provided by Old Baldy and discussing the Civil War with other members. As well as Old Baldy, he is a member of the Brandywine Civil War Round Table, which is based in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He also participates in Vietnam Veterans of America as Secretary of Delaware County 67 and American Legion Post 546 as Treasurer.

George Brewer — Member Profile

Dennisville, NJ has been home to retired sawmill owner George Brewer since he was nine years old. Founded in 1726, the area is known historically for shipbuilding and lumbering, and the Atlantic white cedar timber that is both standing and submerged in its swamplands. Early settlers used the swamp cedar for many purposes – shingles, flooring, furniture – and in George’s hands almost 1,500 picnic tables.

George was born into a farming family in 1935 in Woodbury, NJ. Eighteen years later he graduated from Middle Township High School in Cape May County.

His first job was as a carpenter. Between his junior and senior year in high school George and his father built a house. In 1958 George left carpentry and went to work in his dad’s sawmill in Dennisville. They mined standing cedar from swampland they owned and milled it to fill custom orders. “The mill was no further advanced than one you could have found in the early 1900s.” They became partners in both the mill and a small campground his father owned called Cedar Lake. George took over the businesses when his father retired in the 1960s.

George employed one person to help him fell the trees and haul the logs to his mill. The Brewer Sawmill supplied cedar planking for boat docks, duck and bird decoys, and for other purposes where it will be called on to resist rot and insects. Indeed, the mill provided the cedar to build some of the surf boats used by lifeguards on the East Coast for rescues. George built over 1,000 picnic tables for local campgrounds in the 1980s. “I appreciate a nice stand of cedar; it’s a renewable source that has to be used.”

In 1999 George shut down the sawmill and sold the campground. He recently developed a piece of wooded land he owns into a residential subdivision in Dennisville. He has been married to Joyce Brewer for 66 years and they have two children.

There is more to George’s story than wetland muck and staggering screws in two-by-fours. His family is armed with knowledge of two of George’s ancestors with ties to the Civil War era. The first is his great-grandmother’s brother Josiah Franklin who served in the 12th NJ with training in Woodbury. The second is his great-grandfather William P. Schellenger of Clementon, NJ who, as a second class fireman aboard the USS Montauk on April 25, 1865, guarded the body of one John Wilkes Booth before and after his autopsy. Mr. Schellenger stood eight feet away from the carpenter’s bench where Booth lay on the monitor. The ironclad was anchored in the Anacostia River off the Washington Navy Yard, D.C.

George, an Old Baldy member for 8 ½ years, has visited Vicksburg National Military Park and the Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia. He is a member of the General Meade Society and a 20-year member of The Civil War Roundtable of Cape May County, NJ.

Profile written by Kim Weaver

Meeting of November 9, 2023

Chuck Veit on “Monitor’s Unknown Mission: The Navy Raid on the Petersburg Bridges”

Here is the unsung and all but forgotten story of a major failed mission of the American Civil War. Undertaken at the request of the President, the Navy dedicated a dozen gunboats (including the ironclads Monitor and Galena) and an untried secret weapon, to the destruction of the railroad bridges connecting Petersburg with Richmond. Success would not attend their efforts, but the attempt was well worth the risk.

Had it succeeded, the naval expedition might well have brought about or at least hastened the end of the Rebellion. That most of the squadron escaped unscathed was due entirely to the battles raging on the peninsula to the north. Southern leadership was necessarily focused on the Union army sitting but a few miles from their capitol, and missed the opportunity to capture or destroy a dozen of the Yankee ships on the James River.

Chuck Veit is the author of original research books, including A Dog Before a Soldier: Almost-lost Episodes in the Navy’s Civil War; Sea Miner: Major E. B. Hunt’s Rocket Torpedo; Natural Genius: Brutus de Villeroi and the U.S. Navy’s First Submarine; and two books focusing on the salvage exploits of Massachusetts native, John E. Gowen: Raising Missouri and The Yankee Expedition to Sebastopol. Sea Miner claimed the 2016 award for Narrative Non-fiction from the Independent Publishers of New England, and Yankee Expedition won awards in both the Perennial Seller category and Book of the Year in 2017.

As President of the Navy & Marine Living History Association, Chuck has presented naval history at living history events, lectures, and conferences including NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Education Conference, the 2012 Civil War Navy Conference at the Mariners’ Museum, the Naval War College, and the Naval Order of the United States at Jacksonville. As a freelance graphic designer, Chuck has taught Graphic Design at the university level and in a corporate environment. He holds a Bachelor’s in Studio Art and Historical Linguistics, and a Masters in Historical Linguistics from Clark University.

Meeting of October 12, 2023

Carole Adrienne on “Healing a Divided Nation: How the American Civil War Revolutionized Western Medicine”

At the start of the Civil War, the medical field in America was rudimentary, unsanitary, and woefully underprepared to address what would become the bloodiest conflict on U.S. soil. However, in this historic moment of pivotal social and political change, medicine was also fast evolving to meet the needs of the time. Unprecedented strides were made in the science of medicine, and as women and African Americans were admitted into the field for the first time.

The Civil War marked a revolution in healthcare as a whole, laying the foundations for the system we know today. In Healing a Divided Nation, Carole Adrienne tracks this remarkable and bloody transformation in its cultural and historical context, illustrating how the advancements made in these four years reverberated throughout the western world for years to come.

Carole Adrienne received her B.F.A. from Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. She has organized an archive for Old St. Joseph’s National Shrine, twice chaired “Archives Week” in Philadelphia, and has served on advisory panels for the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center, The Mutter Museum’s “Civil War Medicine” exhibit and its “Spit Spreads Death: The 1918 Flu Epidemic” exhibit. She is working on a documentary film series on Civil War medicine and lives in Philadelphia, PA. This is her first book.

Meeting of September 14, 2023

Brett Gibbons on “The Influence of the Crimean War on the American Civil War”

In 1853 a conflict began that, for the first time since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, pitted most of the great powers of Europe against each other. What initially started as a conflict between the Russian and Ottoman empires quickly escalated to involve the western European maritime powers, Great Britain and France. The Crimean War signaled the arrival of modern warfare and offered keen observers an opportunity to learn important lessons. New technology altered the fighting and forced adjustments. While military planners quickly forgot most lessons of the Crimean War, turning the conflict into one of the century’s forgotten wars, the struggle had a profound impact on the American Civil War.

Brett Gibbons is an author and historical researcher, having written several books on 19th century arms, ammunition, logistics, and military history, including The Destroying Angel, The English Cartridge, and Like Fire and Powder. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in 2010, and was later commissioned as an Ordnance Officer at Fort Benning Officer Candidate School. Today he serves as a Logistics staff officer, and had the privilege of commanding two Army Reserve sustainment companies on two overseas deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Spartan Shield. Brett is the owner of Paper Cartridges LLC located in Gettysburg, Pa, and has been researching and making historically correct Civil War era bullets and cartridges for the reenacting and historical shooting communities for the last 15 years.

Joe Wilson — Member Profile

The American Civil War has a lot of hidden history, and Old Baldy member Joe Wilson has dedicated the last 10 years of his life to uncovering some of those stories and turning them into documentary films. It has been quite an enlightening experience for the man The Philadelphia Inquirer has called “a plumber-turned-screenwriter.”

Joe was born in 1952, Camden, NJ, one of nine children. He graduated from Camden Catholic High School in 1970 then attended Camden County College thinking he might go into management. Instead, Joe obtained his Master Plumber license and remained in that profession, retiring from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 after 33 years of service.

Joe has been researching and studying the Civil War for over 25 years with most of his research on Civil War prisons. He believes the thousands of prisoners who needlessly starved to death is the saddest chapter of the Civil War. Once he retired, Joe started focusing much of his time and energy on researching, writing, and producing three Civil War documentaries. His first, made with his musician brother Mike Wilson and their collaborator Richard Mendoza, was Civil War Prisons – An American Tragedy, which garnered rave reviews after screenings at Camden County College and the Garden State Film Festival at Resorts Casino in Atlantic City.

“Inspiration for the film came from my great-great-grandfather, Corporal George Garman, who survived the notorious Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia, where 13,000 Union soldiers perished. The 26-acre prison site is easily the deadliest piece of ground in America.” Cpl. Garman was in prison there for five months and three months in Florence Stockade (S.C.) when he was moved to elude General William Sherman. He died in 1924 at the age of 80. “The prisoner experience remains to this day the least reported aspect of the Civil War.” Joe went on to make two more films: Remarkable Tales of the Civil War and Civil War Dead – Dignity Denied.

A self-taught writer, Joe has penned a book, In the line of Battle: The Pennsylvania Reserves (Cpl. Garman and 250 of his comrades in the Seventh Pennsylvania Reserves Regiment fell into Confederate hands May 5, 1864 at the Battle of the Wilderness) and also gives presentations and lectures on the subject. He writes for Civil War News and other publications.

Among the many local appearances Joe makes to educate the community on the Civil War, the ones where he exhibits the personal Bible of his great-great-grandfather are the most meaningful. The Bible is part of Joe’s collection of Civil War relics and it came into his possession by a series of remarkable events after a visit to Greenwood Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia. Glued to the inside of the back cover is a photo of Cpl. Garman, in uniform, thought to be taken upon his release from Andersonville Prison. Also noteworthy in the collection are a colt handgun owned by a Captain and a sword owned by a Lieutenant. Because each item has been stamped with the name of the soldier who handled them, Joe is able to trace the story behind the relics. “I like to collect things that have a solid history. Those names tell me all the battles the soldier has been in. I imagine the Captain who owned the gun was leading his men forward, and the Lieutenant with the sword was charging. Both were killed in battle. These weapons were in the hands of the guy killed.”

Joe is not just a Civil War guy. From an early age he was interested in major American wars, including WWII. He occasionally gives a PowerPoint at local venues on the Merchant Marine and how crucial they were to winning the war. His father served aboard the famed Liberty ships that were used to transport vital supplies to the Allies. Manning these vessels was an extremely dangerous task, and that is what Joe talks about in his presentations. “I do it to honor my father and uncle, who also was in the Merchant Marine.”

Joe came to the Old Baldy Civil War Roundtable 10 years ago after the group moved to South Jersey. He is also a member of the General Meade Society and the Civil War Trust. He lives in Magnolia, NJ and has two children and three grandchildren.

Profile written by Kim Weaver

  • Civil War Prisons – An American Tragedy and Remarkable Tales of the Civil War are available on Amazon pay-per-view. Civil War Dead – Dignity Denied is free on YouTube.