Monthly Archives: March 2024

Meeting of April 30, 2024

Alan Sissenwein on “Worst Generals of The Civil War – Earl Van Dorn.”

On the eve of the Civil War, there were few professional soldiers in North America who were held in higher esteem than Earl Van Dorn. Like many of his contemporaries, he had distinguished himself during the Mexican War. Far less typically, he had also earned a reputation as an Indian fighter leading cavalry against the elusive Comanches in Texas. He belonged to a select group of officers, which included George McClellan and Joseph Johnston, from whom great martial deeds were expected when the War Between the States started.

Again like McCellan and Johnston, Van Dorn would prove a disappointment, siding with the Confederacy, he lost important battles at Pea Ridge in Arkansas and Corinth in Mississippi. His conduct of these battles marked him as one of the war’s worst army commanders, but Van Dorn’s defeats did not end his military career. Reassigned to commanding cavalry, Van Dorn conducted a raid that thwarted Grant’s first attempt to capture Vicksburg, and he later captured 1,221 Federal troops at Thompson’s Station in Tennessee.

By May 1863, Van Dorn had seemingly found his military niche when he met a sudden and scandalous death that was perhaps the most embarrassing ever suffered by a Civil War general. Van Dorn’s story is thus a tale of defeat and near redemption that took a final turn into ignominy.

Alan Sissenwein has been a longtime active member, and is now vice president of, the South Bay Civil War Round Table. He is currently writing the second draft of a nonfiction book.

Quiz for April 30, 2024

Civil War Quiz: What Do You Know About the Civil War in the New Mexico Territory?

Q#1 In 1861, the New Mexico Territory was comprised of which current States?

Q#2 The New Mexico Territory provided more soldiers to the Union, than any other western state or territory. Approximately how many Union soldiers came from the New Mexico Territory?

Q#3 In 1861, the Confederacy claimed the southern half of the vast New Mexico Territory as its own Arizona Territory. What was the main objective behind this claim?

Q#4 At the start of the Civil War, what was the general political attitude by those inhabiting the Nex Mexico Territory regarding supporting secession?

Q#5 Which geographic portion of the New Mexico Territory had the strongest support for the Confederacy?

Q#6 What was a major influencing Union support in the northern geographic portion of the New Mexico Territory?

Q#7 In 1861 in the town of Tucson, southern sympathizers living in the New Mexico Territory established what they called the Arizona Territory What was the name of the man named governor?

Q#8 What significant events in July 1861 occurred in the town of Mesilla, New Mexico Territory?

Q#9 On January 13, 1862, what action was taken by Confederate President Davis with regards to the New Mexico Territory?

Q#10 In March 1862, the U.S. House of Representatives, took what political action regarding New Mexico Territory?

Q#11 In what mountain range was the Battle of Glorieta Pass fought in?

Q#12 The Battle of Glorieta Pass began with a skirmish on March 26 between advance elements from each army, with the main battle occurring on March 28. Although the Confederates were able to push Union forces back through the pass, what was the reason they had to retreat?

Q#13 Years after the Civil War ended, what name was given to the Battle of Glorieta Pass?

Q#14 What military engagement is often considered the westernmost engagement of the Civil War?

Q#15 While the Battle of Valverde was technically a Confederates victory, why did Confederate General Henry Sibley decide to abandon his attempt to capture the fort, thus ceding the battlefield back to Union control?

Meeting of March 26, 2024

Tom McMahon on “Bleeding Kansas”

American Progress (John Gast painting)

Setting the stage with a short recall of the violent guerilla warfare that sets pre Civil War Kansas bleeding and on Fire,1855-9 over the issue of slavery we examine the stark contrast of the type of conflict carried out in Virginia by Lee ,a West Point model of proper military engagement as contrasted to the bushwhack raids and battles west of the Mississippi which were out of control of Jefferson Davis in his struggle with his generals. One of my main interests will be to high light the contingent of Union troops who were stationed in Alabama throughout the entire war ,cavalry that became the personal guard of General Sherman in his March to the Sea and the destruction of a 200 year economic plantation way of life for the people of the South. It looks like only a short mention of the March to the Sea can be taken up , so this might be for another time.,

Tom McMahon, San Francisco born in 1928, Roman Catholic priest for 26 years, pastor of Old 1897 historic church in New Almaden, married to Elaine (deceased 2021, two sons, five grandchildren), member of local San Jose South Bay Civil War Roundtable for 16 years, retired mental health therapist, amateur historian, founder of History Club at Almaden Senior Center, writer-researcher, and one who enjoys life and people.