Joe Fafara — Member Profile

Joseph Fafara was born in Roxborough, Philadelphia, in March of 1969. He grew up in Philadelphia and lived with his parents and brother in Marlboro. As a child, he enjoyed playing baseball, music, and the Civil War. He went to school at La Salle College High School, a private, Catholic, all-boys preparatory school in Philadelphia. After he graduated in 1987, he went to college at Temple University and graduated in 1992. He then went on to become a high school teacher for the School District of Philadelphia where he teaches U.S. history and U.S. government.

After meeting her at a wedding, Joseph married his wife Cathy in 1999. They had three daughters together named Jasmine, Abrielle, and Jordan. They now have two grandchildren, Alex and Alea, who live nearby and visit once a week. Joseph’s hobbies are similar to his hobbies as a child, as he watches baseball, listens to live music, and is still interested in the Civil War. He also enjoys playing the game Wordle and drinking craft beer. He and Cathy go on walks together on the Valley Green and Forbidden Drive trails in Philadelphia. They plan on retiring and moving to Nashville in two years.

He became interested in the Civil War when he read the Time-Life Civil War book series when he was in grade school. This series highlights the many battles and campaigns that took place during the war with each book focusing on a Civil War different topic. A childhood trip to the Gettysburg battlefield also piqued his interest. These things jump started a lifetime hobby and a career surrounding history. As well as the Civil War, Joseph is interested in history about U.S. presidents, the American Revolution, and Americans exploring the West.

Joseph joined the Old Baldy Civil War Round Table after he learned about the group in his time at Temple University. He is a member of many other history-related groups as well. The Surratt Society is a group dedicated to learning about the Lincoln assassination and the Surratt House. This group has monthly newsletters and plans tours to share information about the assassination and the events caused by it. The Blue and Gray Education Society raises money for the preservation of Civil War settings and plans tours surrounding early American history. The Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides of Gettysburg has events in Gettysburg for its members as well as a newsletter. The National Civil War Museum gives members access to free admission, tours with the curator, and a quarterly newsletter. The Adams County Historical Society houses artifacts and records pertaining to Gettysburg and raises funds for a new museum called Beyond the Battle.

Bill Sia — Member Profile

When you first meet William (Bill) Sia, you quickly notice his sense of humor. Chat with him for a good while and you come away knowing more than you ever thought possible about American history and the workings of his country’s government. “I’m the only guy I know who walks around with a copy of the Constitution in his back pocket.”

Born in 1945 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Bill, one of six children, had an idyllic childhood. He idolized his Dad, a veteran of the second World War, who labored in a coal mine (the only job available) for five years before moving his family 120 miles down the road to Levittown to work in a steel mill. Ten-year-old Bill thought he had moved to suburban heaven. “We bought a house, schools went up, I could ride my bike anywhere, my Mom and Dad filled the house with books – it was great growing up there.”

After graduating in 1963 from Woodrow Wilson High School, Bill set out to become a teacher. In 1967 he earned a B.A. at King’s College and then went on to teach American Government and History to seniors at Pennsauken High School (NJ) for 35 years. He earned a M.A. at Trenton State College in 1982. Bill, a member of the New Jersey Education Association, credits his parents and teachers with his career success. “They steered me to entrench myself in the activities of reading and studying. Even my professors. They all set a good example.”

While working at Pennsauken H.S. Bill met Ed Komczyk, then a math teacher and friend of Old Baldy Civil War Round Table. Ed would mention a group meeting to Bill, Bill would say yeah, let’s go, and together they would take a train to the Civil War Museum on Pine Street in Philly. They enjoyed those early days of discussions and camaraderie, through the group’s move to the Union League and now – with the help of Bill Hughes and others – at Camden County College. “This is where I met a very bright and talented group.”

Fast forward 25 years and Bill and Ed remain great friends and loyal Round Table members. Although Bill continues to harbor an interest in the Civil War, he is drawn primarily to the areas of pre-war influences and Reconstruction, a topic he has presented at the Round Table. Bill is extremely proud of the Old Baldy crew. “I can’t get over how smart people are in the group. They are so knowledgeable.”

Fellow Old Baldy members may be surprised at how knowledgeable Bill is at something totally unrelated to the U.S. Civil War and that is building race cars. With the help of their tech- savvy Dad, Bill and his brother built a 1963 Triumph that they took to the car hill climb competitions in Wilkes-Barre in the 70s. They painted the car red, white, and blue – with stars. The car is long gone (two rich guys bought it; Bill has regrets) but Bill’s brother has the frame of a MGB sitting in his garage waiting for a body. Constructing another racer is certainly on Bill’s bucket list. Right now, though, he is having too much fun traveling to NASCAR races with his brother.

Bill lives in Marlton, NJ with his wife and college sweetheart, Anna. She is a retired nurse. They have been married for 50 years and have one son, Brian, a computer engineer working at McGuire AFB in NJ.

Profile written by Kim Weaver

Meeting of November 10, 2022

Chuck Veit on “A Lively Little Battle: New Perspectives on the Battle of Fort Butler, Donaldsonville, LA, 28 June 1863”.

The little-known Civil War engagement at Donaldsonville, Louisiana, is the Battle of Fort Butler, which saw a ragtag collection of 200 Union soldiers (mostly invalids) unaccountably repel the assault of a 1700-man Confederate force in the early morning hours of 28 June 1863. Lively Little Battle, as one contemporary newspaper described the action, includes multiple eyewitness accounts (the majority never before referenced) with every stage of the action diagramed with maps based on a previously undiscovered 1863 plan of the fort found in the National Archives. The story told in this book and the conclusion drawn shine a new and different light on this small and long-misunderstood action.

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.

CWRT Congress 2022 Wally Rueckel Innovation Award

Old Baldy Receives the CWRT Congress 2022 Wally Rueckel Innovation Award

The Wallace L. Rueckel Innovation Award celebrates the CWRT that has successfully sought to improve their organization in a variety of ways. The award for 2022 was presented in this video.

Meeting of October 13, 2022

Jim Remsen and Brad Upp on “Back From Battle: The Forgotten Story of Pennsylvania’s Camp Discharge and the Weary Civil War Soldiers It Served”

In the final year of the American Civil War, a special Union Army post was constructed just outside Philadelphia to handle a jumble of returning citizen-soldiers.

Many soldiers bore bullet wounds, broken bones, and other scars of combat. Some had lost limbs. Some were laid low by illness. Hundreds arrived half-dead as survivors of wretched prison camps. Others were blessedly unscathed—but all grappled with the fresh, ferocious memories of their time at war.

The post, known as Camp Discharge, did its best to move the young Union veterans on to their next assignment or, more often, back to civilian life. During its brief existence, it sat on a bluff overlooking what is today one of the nation’s busiest highways, the Schuylkill Expressway. The post was quickly dismantled, its story forgotten. The authors reclaim that remarkable history and trace the often tumultuous lives of the Pennsylvania volunteer soldiers who passed through Camp Discharge’s gates.

Jim Remsen is a journalist and author of several prior books; The Intermarriage Handbook; Visions of Teaoga; and Embattled Freedom. Since retiring as Religion Editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jim has pursued his keen interest in history, with a focus on underappreciated aspects of our nation’s local histories.

Jim Remsen and Brad Upp

Brad Upp is a board member of the Lower Merion Historical Society and a former educator. His upbringing near Camp Discharge stoked a fascination with history and led him to become a Civil War historian, relic hunter and re-enactor representing the 69th Pennsylvania Infantry. Brad is a skilled collector of artifacts from various periods of history, a passion that has taken him to a myriad of locations throughout the United States.

Meeting of September 8, 2022

Elizabeth D. Leonard on “Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life”

Benjamin Franklin Butler was one of the most important and controversial military and political leaders of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Remembered most often for his uncompromising administration of the Federal occupation of New Orleans during the war, Butler reemerges in this lively narrative as a man whose journey took him from childhood destitution to wealth and profound influence in state and national halls of power.

Prize-winning biographer Elizabeth D. Leonard chronicles Butler’s successful career in law defending the rights of the Lowell Mill girls and other workers, his achievements as one of Lincoln’s premier civilian generals, and his role in developing wartime policy in support of slavery’s fugitives as the nation advanced toward emancipation. Leonard also highlights Butler’s personal and political evolution, revealing how his limited understanding of racism and the horrors of slavery transformed over time, leading him into a postwar role as one of the nation’s foremost advocates for Black freedom and civil rights, and one of its notable opponents of white supremacy and neo-Confederate resurgence.

Elizabeth D. Leonard is the John J. and Cornelia V. Gibson Professor of History Emerita at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. A native of New York City, she earned her Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of California, Riverside, in 1992. Leonard is the author of several articles and five books on the Civil War-era including: Yankee Women: Gender Battles in the Civil War; All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies; and Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally: Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt of Kentucky, which was named co-winner of the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize in 2012.

She is currently engaged in research for a new project, which weaves together a deeper study of Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt’s transformation from slaveholder to willing advocate and enforcer of Lincoln’s emancipation policies, and the story of the lived experience of enslaved men from the region of Kentucky where Holt was raised—including one of Holt’s own former slaves—as they ran from slavery to fight for freedom in the Union army and then returned to try and claim the promises of Emancipation.

Meeting of August 11, 2022

Dr. Kenneth Rutherford on “America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War”.

In “America’s Buried History: Landmines in the Civil War”, Dr. Kenneth Rutherford traces the development of anti-personnel landmines from their first use before the Civil War, to the early use of naval mines, through the establishment of the Confederacy’s Army Torpedo Bureau, the world’s first institution devoted to developing, producing, and fielding mines in warfare. Ken Rutherford, known worldwide for his work in the landmine discipline, and who himself lost both legs to a mine in Africa, relies on a host of primary sources to highlight the widespread use of landmines across the Confederacy.

Ken is a professor of Political Science at James Madison University, and Director of JMU’s Center for International Stabilization and Recovery. He holds a Ph.D. in Government from Georgetown University, and B.A. and MBA degrees from the University of Colorado. Ken served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mauritania (1987-1989), a UNHCR Emergency Refugee Coordinator in Senegal (1989), a humanitarian emergency relief officer in northern Kenya and Somalia (1993), and was a Fulbright Scholar in Jordan (2005). He lost both legs to a landmine while serving in Somalia.

Ken’s work spans over two decades in more than 40 countries, including Vietnam to bring assistance to survivors, and in Bosnia, where he escorted Princess Diana to visit landmine victims and their care providers in an effort to bring attention to their plight. He was a leader in the coalition that won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, and that spearheaded the 1997 International Mine Ban Treaty ultimately signed by 164 nations. Ken is also a co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network.

Meeting of July 14, 2022

Peter Miele on “Talking Flags: The United States Army Signal Corps on July 1 and Beyond”

During the Gettysburg Campaign, the United States Army of the Potomac was relying on an infant organization, the Signal Corps, to perform duties of observation and communication. On July 1, in the Cupola of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Signal Officer Lt. Aaron B. Jerome was the “eyes” of General John Buford as the largest battle in the western hemisphere erupted. Pete Miele of the Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center explores how this organization was formed and how they affected the course of battle.

Pete Miele is Executive Director of the Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center, and President of the Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Foundation. After graduating from Ramapo College of New Jersey with a degree in History and Secondary Education, he began his career in secondary education, teaching American History, World History, and American Studies. In 2013, he relocated to Gettysburg, obtained a MA in Applied History from Shippensburg University, and found employment with the new Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center. For seven years, he worked at the Museum in various roles in education and operations and, in 2020, was named the Museum’s Executive Director, the position he currently holds. A frequent lecturer, Pete has presented at national conferences of the Society of Civil War Historians and the American Association of State and Local History. His interests include 19th century mid-Atlantic social and cultural history, environmental and medical history, and museum studies. In fall 2021, Pete began work towards a PhD in American Studies at Penn State, Harrisburg.

Meeting of June 9, 2022

A.J. Schenkman on “Unexpected Bravery: Women and Children of the Civil War”

The American Civil War divided the United States from 1861 to 1865. During those years, over two million soldiers served in both the Union and Confederate Armies. What is little known is that not only the numerous children, some as young as 12, enlisted on both sides, but also women who disguised themselves as men in an attempt to make a difference in the epic struggle to determine the future of the United States of America.

A. J. Schenkman is a New York-based writer. Since his start writing for local newspapers, Schenkman has branched out into writing for magazines, blogs, and academic journals, in both history and other subjects. Schenkman is also author of several books about local and regional history. Please be sure to visit him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Check out his website AJSchenkman.com and his new podcast authorajschenkman.podbean.com.

Save the Date for May 14 Picnic

SAVE THE DATE. Mark Saturday, May 14, 2022, with a bold red circle as we are going to celebrate not only Old Baldy’s 170th birthday but also the 45th Anniversary of our Round Table. Join us in celebrating these two extraordinary events. Round Table members, family and friends are all invited over to hosts Paul and Susan Prentiss’s home located in Marlton, NJ.

We will be out in the back yard, sitting in lawn chairs to maintain social distancing. The dining fare will be similar to last year but with improvements. We will have hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, sheet cake, chips, cheese & crackers plate, and whatever you want to bring.

The initial Picnic Planning email will be sent in early April. Send your ideas to Paul at pprentissfamily@gmail.com to make this momentous event a smashing success.