Sharpsburg Heritage Days

23 08 2008

I’ll be presenting a version of my Threads program as part of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) Lecture Series at Sharpsburg Heritage Days, September 13 & 14.  I believe I’ll be doing this on the 13th, sometime between 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in town.  Here’s a schedule of events.  The SHAF lectures are free.

Related events coming up include a crossing of the Potomac the following Saturday, Sept. 20th, in commemoration of the 146th Anniversary of the Battle of Shepherdstown.  The crossing (from the Maryland side to the West Virginia side) will be followed by a tour of the Cement Mill which figured so prominently in the battle, as well as some privately owned battlefield land, with refreshments provided afterwards by the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association (SBPA). There is a fee for this event.  Here are the details from Tom Clemens.  Leave a comment here if you’re interested in attending, and I’ll put you in touch with him:

We’ll meet at 3:00 Saturday Sept. 20 on the Maryland side of the Potomac at Boteler’s (Packhorse, Shepherdstown) Ford. This may entail some car-pooling from Antietam Visitor’s Center if there are a lot of us. We’ll wade the Potomac at the ford site, and on the other side some folks from Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association (SBPA) will meet us. They will arrange for us to use the actual ford site, which is on private property, and we’ll stop and look at the ruins of the Cement Mill. Then we’ll ascend the bluff roughly along the route of Barnes’ Brigade and go to the place where the 118th PA fought, all of which is also on private property. After viewing the main battle area we’ll walk to the original farmhouse, also privately owned, where the opposing forces first met, and see a shell embedded in the farmhouse wall. From there we’ll go to the Dunleavey’s home, just a short distance away, where they will serve us hamburgers, hot dogs and all the trimmings, as well as adult liquid refreshments that will slake the thirst of all dedicated battlefield trasmpers. When we have had our fill of everything, they will provide drivers to take us back to our vehicles, thus we only have to wade once. All of this wonderful stuff for only a paltry $25 per person donation to SBPA, which is tax-deductible! It doesn’t get any better than this! Tramping a privately-owned battlefield, helping a preservation group, and a good meal!!

On Columbus Day Weekend, October 10-11, SHAF will sponsor a dinner and lecture with Marion V. Armstrong, author of “Unfurl Those Colors”, McClellan, Sumner, and the Second Army Corps in the Antietam Campaign on Friday evening at the South Mountain Inn, followed by a tour of the relevant portions of the field on Saturday.  There will be fees for these events as well.  I recently interviewed Mr. Armstrong for the SHAF newsletter, and that will be put up on the SHAF website along with details of the event once they are ironed out.

Central Ohio Civil War Round Table – Columbus

18 03 2008

This past Wednesday (March 12), I made the 3 hour drive to Columbus to deliver my Threads presentation to the Central Ohio Civil War Round Table.  Mike Peters, the round table’s group historian (programs director) and an old e-quaintance with whom I’ve stomped Civil War battlefields in North Carolina, met me at the Holiday Inn in Pickerington.  From there we went over to what’s left of Camp Chase, which served as a training camp, parole camp, and prison camp during the war.  It’s most famous as a facility in which both prisoners of war and civilian detainees were held, and over 2,200 of them rest in the cemetery that represents all that is left of the once vast camp (I reviewed in brief a new book on Camp Chase in the May 2008 issue of America’s Civil War ).  One of those buried there is an ancestor of Mike’s – that’s them in the last photo below (click on the thumbnail for a larger image):

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We spent a short while in the cemetery, and then drove to the offices of Blue & Gray Magazine.  There I was introduced to Jason Roth, who works with his father Dave, the founder of the magazine.  I was about 19 issues short of a full run of Blue & Gray, and had packed a list of all the issues I needed, which of course I left back at the hotel.  I remembered one of the issues off the top of my head (a rare occurrence) which Jason had in stock.  I also purchased a copy of Tom McGrath’s new book on the Battle of Shepherdstown, and told Jason I would try to stop by the next day before heading for home (I did return, and bought another three back issues – now just 15 to go!).  Here is the home of the magazine:

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 Next we drove to the Motts Military Museum in Groveport.  This place is a real jewel, with a wonderful collection of paraphernalia spanning American military history.  The museum is now the home of the Pickett’s Charge diorama formerly displayed in the Gettysburg Cyclorama; numerous edged weapons and firearms; uniforms; tanks; helicopters; a rare WWII Higgins boat; an exact replica of Columbus native Eddie Rickenbacker’s  boyhood home; and much more.  After wandering the grounds, Mike introduced me to the director, Warren Motts.  Many of you have met Wayne Motts, Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide and the Director of the Adams County Historical Society.  Warren is Wayne’s father, and all I can say is the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.  Talk about energy and enthusiasm!  Warren showed us the new (unopened) wing of the museum, which has lots of stuff from NASA (including a live feed!), an extensive collection of women’s uniforms, and the lens used by Matthew Brady to photograph Lee on his porch in Richmond after Appomattox.  The last photo below is of Mike (l) and Warren (r):

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 It was getting pretty late, and the meeting was to begin at 7:30, so Mike dropped me at the hotel where I changed.  About 10 minutes later I was back in Mike’s car and we met another member of the round table, author and fellow blogger Eric Wittenberg, at Max & Erma’s for dinner.  I’ve known Eric for about seven years, and realized that I hadn’t seen him in nearly three, so it was nice to have some time to catch up.  Check out his very kind comments regarding my presentation.  Thanks for the plug, Eric.

The meeting was held in Westerville, which is a pretty cool Victorian town.  I had a little time to schmooze with some of the members I had met a few years ago in North Carolina, and round table President Tim Maurice had some business to conduct, so I began my program around 7:45.  About 35 folks showed up, and  I started off by taking this picture (sorry, it’s out of focus):   


I think things went pretty well.  Mike had told me that the speaker usually goes 30-45 minutes.  I went to about 9:15, and only one person had to leave during the program.  I didn’t have any time for a formal Q&A (I think on a Wednesday night most folks had already had a long day), but there were quite a few questions during the presentation and three or four hung around afterward to chat.  Thanks to the fella (Jamie Ryan) who provided the probable identity of Colonel — whose death Romeyn B. Ayres felt would enable his family to be proud (see here) as Norval Welch of the 16th MI.  Welch’s actions at Little Round Top on July 2, 1863 had cast a shadow over his reputation.  He was killed at the head of his regiment at Peebles Farm on Sept. 30, 1864.  Here’s a photo of Welch that I found on this site:  


All in all, a good trip.  The reworking of the program really paid off, and the whole thing flowed a lot better.  Thanks to Tim Maurice, Mike Peters, Eric Wittenberg and everyone at the Central Ohio Civil War Round Table for a great time, and for their pledge of a donation to the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.



The Crowded Bandwagon – and Coming up Next Week

4 03 2008


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It looks like everyone is jumping on the failure-of-Reconstruction bandwagon.  Charles Lane’s The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction and LeeAnna Keith’s The Colfax Massacre: The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror and the Death of Reconstruction both revisit the incident covered in Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War.

I’ll be in Ohio on March 12 (next Wednesday), delivering my Threads program to the Central Ohio Civil War Round Table in Columbus.  I’m reworking my presentation, dropping the campaign and battle summaries altogether and grouping the stories differently.  The end result should be more structured and easy going at the same time.  But I’ll be using most of my free time this weekend working on the PowerPoint slides, so I won’t be posting much original material between now and my return – though I will put up the full review of the Jackson Video if America’s Civil War shows up on the news stand this week.

Unless I hear from any other organizations that want to hear this program, this will probably be the last time I present Threads.  I’ll be focusing next on the role played in the battle by graduates of the West Point classes of 1861.  I don’t have any takers yet (leave a message here if you’re interested), but I’m not letting that stop me and you readers, both of you, will be the beneficiaries of whatever I turn up regardless.

Pages, Letters, Programs

15 01 2008

In keeping with the split personality of this site – it serves as both a blog and a repository for First Bull Run data (see the Pages section on the right) – I posted three official reports over the weekend.  Since I usually don’t post on the weekends, I’ve decided to put up this type of data (these types of data?) on Saturdays and Sundays.  I figure that way all the reports will be up this year, and I can start on the correspondence as well.  Other pages I’ll be working on are regimental biographies and MOH winners in the battle.

ororke.jpgIn related news, I received in the mail from a good friend a transcription of a letter written by Lt. Patrick Henry O’Rorke of his experiences during the battle.  O’Rorke graduated first in the USMA class of June 1861, and served as an aide on BG Daniel Tyler’s staff that summer.  He’s best known for his heroics and death on Little Round Top at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 (you’ve probably rubbed his bronze nose there on occasion).  It’s a great letter, but there’s a problem: I have no idea where the original is deposited.  This makes the letter difficult to use.  So, if any of you out there have any idea what letter I’m talking about, please drop me a line.

In related-related news, I have tentatively determined that the role of the two USMA classes of 1861 in the battle will be the subject of my next round table program.  Don’t get excited: I don’t have any takers yet.  If you’re interested, leave a note on the Speaking Dates page.

Best of 2007

8 01 2008




Click on comments and have at it.  Be as long-or short-winded as you like.  If we get enough activity, I’ll summarize the “winners”.  If not, I’ll let the whole thing die on the vine.

Let’s have some fun.  This is the time of year that faceless organizations give out their awards for “best of” Civil War stuff.  I thought it would be neat to give you all the opportunity to spout off on what you liked (or disliked, if you must) the most in the year just gone by.  For books, let’s limit it to Civil War era publications from 2007.  Any Civil War themed blog is eligible.  What the heck, let’s throw in DVD’s that were released that concern the era, too.  And while we’re at it, nominate the best CW speaker you heard last year.

Rufus Barringer Civil War Round Table

23 09 2007


I spent the last few days in the great state of North Carolina, and was treated to a wonderful time by my hosts.  On Thursday I flew into Raleigh-Durham airport where I was met by friend Teej Smith, Civil War author and researcher and the program director for the Rufus Barringer Civil War Round Table in Pinehurst.  Awhile back Teej invited me to speak to the group, and that invitation led to starting this blog, so for that alone I’m indebted to her.

Our first stop was Chapel Hill, home of Teej’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina.  On the mall I caught a glimpse of (James Johnston) Pettigrew Hall and the ubiquitous “Reb of Freedom”.  I got my souvenir shopping done in the student bookstore and we bought some coffee and sat in the infamous “Pit”, home to young, healthy, attractive, smart and/or well-to-do 18-22 year olds with a seemingly unlimited supply of things to be pissed-off about.  A great place to sit and watch.


Next up was the Wilson Library (below), where the special North Carolina collections are housed.  We were graciously led into the curator’s office to take a look at former valedictorian Pettigrew’s portrait (below – this photo is driving me to purchase a digital SLR), and with Teej’s help I was able to get a copy of an address given at the presentation of a portrait of Colonel Fisher of the 6th NC, killed at First Bull Run.  Lots of good stuff in it, but it will require separation of wheat from chaff.


After that we got a bite to eat at The Four Corners restaurant; then we drove to Pinehurst to get ready for the program, which kicked off at 7:00.  A nice group of about 30 were in attendance at the Southern Pines Civic Center, and I did my thing from 7:30 until about 8:45.  Everyone seemed interested, and I didn’t hear any crickets.  Only one question was asked at the end, though several folks came up afterwards to speak with me, one of them a cousin of the voice of my Pittsburgh Steelers, play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove.  Thanks to Teej and president Al Potts for a very nice time.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I was off my game.  I didn’t think my transitions between stories were particularly smooth, and I had to pause for a few seconds once or twice to find information in my notes (my presentaiton is not a prepared speech, but there are quite a few quotes I use).  Maybe I was tired from the flight and all, I don’t know.  But I did get further along than last time, and am considering eliminating the battle recap completely from the presentation.  Teej suggested I provide handouts such as the campaign maps: people love to have something they can hold in their hands and look at.  I think she’s right about that.

On Friday we paid a visit to the Malcolm Blue farm (below), where BG Judson Kilpatrick spent the night before the little fight at Monroe’s Crossroads.  We spent some time organizing Teej’s library, which is very impressive in quantity and quality.  We went to lunch in Pinehurst (in the village, near Pinehurst #2), then Teej drove me to Cary where I met up with my in-laws, with whom I stayed Friday night.  I got back home on Saturday in time to see my Nittany Lions fall to the hated maize and blue.  A bad end to an otherwise great trip.

I don’t have another speaking gig set up until March in Columbus, OH. I’ll continue to fine-tune the program, and as always if you’re interested in booking me you can do so via this site.  I have no qualms about speaking to round tables: I don’t anticipate making a living or even a profit from it, and do it only because I enjoy it and because someone asks.  I’ll stop whenever either of those things changes.

I Think I Did Better Than This Guy

18 08 2007




(Click on Ben’s picture to see the video of his Voodoo Economics presentation in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)


This past Wednesday (Aug. 15th) I presented my “Threads” program to the Western Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable.  This was a good choice for my first presentation – I’ve been a member of the group for eight or nine years now.  I regularly teach recertification continuing education to professionals, but I admit to having been more than a little nervous about the prospect of addressing this group that includes a good number of very knowledgeable ACW enthusiasts.

About 60 members and guests braved the heat in a church hall hard by historic Old Economy Village in Ambridge, PA.  Old Economy is the remnant of the third and last Harmony Society settlement, founded in 1824 (click here for more on the Society and the settlement).  While the hall is newer than the church, it does not have air conditioning, so it was cookin’ in there.

The night before, I did a run through of my program.  I had it set up with 12 maps of the campaign, and with each map I had one or two stories (threads) with slides – mostly photos.  In the practice round, I covered about half the slides in about 70 minutes, and I was only going to get 60 at the meeting.  So I changed things up during the day on Thursday, and wrote a summary of the battle (one page).  By starting off with that I figured at least I could give the whole story of the battle with some of the points I wanted to make, and wouldn’t have to worry about getting to the end of my program since the threads stand alone.  After the intro, I went into thread pulling mode.  Out of about 90 slides, I got to go over 14.  All of the work I did produced about 2.5 to 3 hours worth of material.  So, I got that going for me, which is nice.

I think the program went well, and the folks seemed to like it – at least they laughed in the right places.  Afterwards they asked about 8 or 10 questions, for each of which I think I had a pretty good response.  Thanks to President Russ Broman, program director Dave Fisher, and founder Gary Augustine for the A-1 treatment.

You Spin Me Right Round, Table, Right Round

10 08 2007




This musical interlude brought to you for no apparent reason, other than I have this song stuck in my head and can’t get it out and misery loves company. 

I have a round table presentation to give next Wednesday, the fifteenth, before my own group, the Western Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable.  Tomorrow I plan on locking myself in my office to work on my PowerPoint.  The program will revolve around 12 maps of the campaign, with a main “thread” and one or two minor ones on individuals and/or events that tie to each map.




It’s been tough to prepare, because I feel like I haven’t spent much time working on the presentation.  But in fact I’ve spent a lot of time on it, because it all stems from things I’ve worked on for this blog.  I’ve outlined the program, and now it’s just a question of putting slides together and writing notes.  I don’t intend to read much text (other than direct quotes), but I need to have things like dates and such readily accessible.

The plan is for a very un-roundtable-like presentation…more conversational.  I’d like it to have a less formal feel, and will encourage on-topic questions during the presentation rather than waiting until the program is over.  I’m hoping for a more interactive experience.  It might irk traditionalists, but I’ll run the risk.


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