Meeting of August 14, 2010

Tom Christianson on “Opening of the Battle of Chickamauga”

In the history of the Civil War, the Western Theater has long been overshadowed by the the Eastern Theater. Only recently have serious studies by renowned historians Stephen Z. Starr in his three volume work, The Union Cavalry in the Civil War (1985) and David Evans’ Sherman’s Horsemen (1996), focused on cavalry operations in the Western Theater. During this same time, the battle of Chickamauga has become one of the most studied events of the war, researched by William Glenn Robertson, and a number of other military historians including our own Lt. Col. Tom Christianson, U. S. A. (Retired). As a military historian, Tom taught history at West Point and the Army Command and General Staff College. He has worked with Glenn Robertson and participated in the “staff walks” for military leadership classes studying the battles and battlefields of the Civil War. Other than Gettysburg, perhaps no other site has been studied as closely as Chickamauga, which was designated as the first National Park in 1890. Continue reading

Meeting of July 27, 2010

Dr. Libra Hilde on “Cultural, Social, and Political Trends and Events That Led up to the Civil War”

Dr. Libra Hilde, Assistant Professor, Dept. of History, San Jose State University, discussed the cultural, social, and political trends and events that led up to the Civil War. Her exceptional presentation covered a wide variety of issues and generated numerous questions from her enthusiastic audience. Her overall theme dealt with Southern masculinity and the militaristic culture that helped propel the South into a war it could not win. Continue reading

Meeting of June 29, 2010

Dr. Joe Wagner on “Civil War Medicine”

Civil War Medicine, with one major exception, was virtually unchanged from practice in the dark ages. Bacteria were unknown. Sanitation was primitive, handwashing by surgeons considered unnecessary. The one enormous discovery that was used extensively by both Union and Confederate surgeons was anaesthesia. Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) was discovered in 1845, ether in 1846, and chloroform in 1847. Smallpox vaccination was mandated but not rigidly enforced. Soldiers shared vaccine materials, often with disastrous effects. Measles, a childhood illness, was far more serious in adults. In one battle, half a regiment was out of action due to measles. Many soldiers from rural areas had no exposure to common childhood illnesses, and hence no immunity. Continue reading

Meeting of May 25, 2010

Larry Comstock on “The Lincoln Writ” — Abraham Lincoln and the New Almaden Mine

Larry discussed the writ issued by President Abraham Lincoln in May 1863 to be enforced by the U.S. Marshall in San Francisco:

“Whereas, Andres Castillero and divers persons have under a pretended grant from the Republic of Mexico occupied the New Almaden Quicksilver Mine. And, Whereas By the decision of the Supreme Court it has been adjudged that the grant is fraudulent and void. Continue reading

Meeting of March 30, 2010

Tom Roza on “Winfield Scott Hancock – A Man for the Ages”

Civil War general seated

Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock

Tom delighted the club members his presentation on Winfield Scott Hancock. Tom provided a very thorough and detailed description of Hancock from his childhood growing up in Pennsylvania, attending West Point, and participating in his first combat during the Mexican War. The presentation included Hancock’s extensive experience as an Army Quartermaster in duty assignments that ranged from Florida, to the Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions and California. Tom described the deep and warm friendships that Hancock developed with fellow soldiers such as Lewis Armistead, Richard Garnett and Harry Heth. Continue reading

Meeting of February 23, 2010

Gerald S. Henig on “Lincoln at 200 – In Fact Rather than Fiction”

As we commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, our 16th president remains an enigmatic figure shrouded in myth and legend. Many questions still surround this well-loved but perplexing man. For example, Lincoln had less than a year of formal education: How did he achieve such literary grandeur? Lincoln was a commander in chief with no military training or experience: How did he prove so effective? He opposed the abolitionist movement: How did he become the great emancipator? By focusing on Lincoln as orator, advocate of freedom commander of Union forces, and wartime political leader, Professor Gerald Henig helped us separate fact from fiction in order to understand better this uncommon common man. Continue reading

Meeting of January 26, 2010

Mary Deborah Petite on “The Women Will Howl”

Mary's book cover

Mary’s book cover

Slicing through Civil War history is not unlike cutting through a layer cake. The icing represents themes of grandeur and glory, the first layer, the epic battles and their heroic outcomes. The next layer represents the decorated heroes and martyrs, the major players. Following them are the histories of the Armies, Divisions, Brigades, and their bold leaders. Finally, and after all else, come the stories of the common soldier. What is frequently overlooked, however, is that the stage upon which these great battles are fought, the land across which armies of tens of thousands surge, also represents the lives of the millions of civilians who depend on that land for their industry and survival. Their voices are rarely heard. And so it was with the women mill-workers of the small mill town of Roswell, Georgia, when William Tecumseh Sherman’s cavalry swept into town on July 5, 1864. Continue reading

Meeting of November 24, 2009

René Accornero on “Retreat from Gettysburg”

Gettysburg Campaign Retreat Map (Hal Jespersen)

René talked about the massive efforts of General Robert Lee and his command as they sought to move people, equipment, and scavenged supplies back to Virginia after being defeated at Gettysburg. More than 57 miles of wagons and ambulance trains and tens of thousands of livestock accompanied the army back to Virginia. The adverse conditions of the driving rain and muddy quagmires were described as General Meade attempted to attack the trains. Battles were fought at South Mountain, Hagerstown, and Williamsport, but Lee’s skillful use of terrain and defenses allowed him to escape. Washington’s criticism of Gen. Meade was also discussed. Meade’s failure to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia prolonged the war for two more years. Continue reading