Author Archives: hlj

Meeting of May 28, 2024

Join us at 6:30 PM, May 28, at Holder’s Country Inn Restaurant located at 10088 N Wolfe Road, Suite 130, Cupertino, CA 95014, across from the former Vallco Fashion Mall and via ZOOM. This month’s topic is

Mark Costin on Battle of Buena Vista – Training Ground for the Civil War”

Battle of Buena Vista by Carl Nebel

This talk describes the 1847 Battle of Buena Vista where the American forces of Zachary Taylor defeated the Mexican army of Santa Anna. The battle saw significant contributions by many future Civil War stalwarts. Particular attention will be paid to the important actions by Jefferson Davis and Braxton Bragg in securing the victory. The talk will conclude with an open discussion of the comparison between the two wars.

Mark Costin is an engineer living in Sunnyvale, CA recently retired from working on functional safety for automated and autonomous vehicles. A long time history buff, Mark now has more time to devote to his hoppy. He holds a Ph.D. in Systems Engineering from Case Western Reserve University, an M.Eng from McMaster University and B.Eng from McGill University.

Quiz for May 28, 2024

Civil War Quiz: What Do You Know About the Fort Pillow Massacre?

Q#1 – Where is Fort Pillow located?

Q#2 – Who constructed Fort Pillow?

Q#3 – Why did the Confederates construct Fort Pillow?

Q#4 – What was a major defensive design flaw in the fort’s construction?

Q#5 – When did Union forces capture Fort Pillow?

Q#6 – Why were Union forces able to capture Fort Pillow?

Q#7 – After its capture by Union forces, how large was the military garrison at Fort Pillow?

Q#8 – What Confederate General led the attack on Fort Pillow?

Q#9 – What was the overall Confederate strategy that eventually led up to the attack on Fort Pillow?

Q#10 – What battle preceded the Confederate attack on Fort Pillow?

Q#11 – What tactic did Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest attempt to get Union forces to surrender at a military engagement that preceded the attack on Fort Pillow?

Q#12 – Approximately how many Confederate forces participated in the attach on Fort Pillow? (Note: the estimate is a range of 1,000 troops!)

Q#13 – What significant Union casualty early in the Confederate attack on Fort Pillow aided in losing the battle?

Q#14 – What occurred at the end of the Battle for Fort Pillow?

Q#15 – After the Battle of Fort Pillow what reason did the Confederates give for the high number of Union troops killed during the battle?

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.

Quiz for March 26, 2024

Civil War Quiz: What Do You Know About Civil War General Benjamin Butler?

Q#1 – Where was Benjamin Butler born and on what date?

Q#2 – What military event did Butler’s father, John Butler serve in?

Q#3 – Who was Butler named after?

Q#4 – Butler was awarded a scholarship to Phillips Exeter Academy, where he spent one term. How was described by his schoolmates?

Q#5 – In 1844, Butler was elected to what organization?

Q#6 – What reputation did Butler earn as a criminal defense lawyer?

Q#7 – Although Butler represented workers in legal actions, he also sometimes represented mill owners. This adoption of both sides of an issue manifested itself when he became more politically active. What landmark labor working condition for laborers did Butler advocate for?

Q#8 – Butler, as a Democrat, supported the Compromise of 1850 and regularly spoke out against the abolition of slavery. At the 1860 Democratic National Convention at Charleston, South Carolina, who did Butler support as the Democratic Party’s candidate for President of the United States?

Q#9 – In 1857 what position did then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis appointed Butler to at West Point?

Q#10 – Although he sympathized with the South, what statement did Butler make as he sought to serve in the Union Army??

Q#11 – After Abraham Lincoln was elected president in November 1860, Butler traveled to Washington, D.C. When a secessionist South Carolina delegation arrived in Washington, what did Butler do?

Q#12 – At the start of the Civil War, Butler managed to be named Brigadier General of the 8th Massachusetts Regiment. What was the first action Butler participated in April 1861?

Q#13 – In May 1862, Butler commanded the force that conducted the capture of New Orleans after its occupation by the Navy following the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip. In the administration of that city, what did Butler initially implement?

Q#14 – In November 1863, Butler was given command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina based in Norfolk, Virginia. In January 1864, what activity did Butler play a pivotal role in regarding the creation of ??

Q#15 – What do many Civil War historians’ cite as a major contributing factor for Andrew Johnson being acquitted at his impeachment trial?

Meeting of February 27, 2024

David Hsueh on “Gone with the Wind: The Controversial Legacy and Forgotten Memory of Joseph E. Johnston”

Few Confederate officers divide Civil War academia more than General Joseph E. Johnston. A select few consider him a strategic genius and the Confederacy’s most underappreciated general. Most, including many Civil War students in the South, nickname him “Retreatin’ Joe Johnston” or “The Great Retreater”, and blame him for some of the Confederacy’s biggest military failures.

Of course, the legacies and “greatness” of many, if not all, generals of the Confederacy are debated. However, unlike fellow Virginians Generals Lee, Jackson, and Stuart, Johnston had no monument in Richmond’s historic “Monument Avenue” — displaying that his story seems to be almost forgotten from Southern public memory and left out from “Lost Cause” discourse.

Other than Lee, perhaps there has not been a more important figure to Confederate military operations than General Johnston. On paper, his resume seems impeccable, with stints commanding the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee, while also being engaged in the First Manassas, Peninsula, Vicksburg, and Atlanta Campaigns. Even still, despite being the Confederacy’s fourth highest ranking officer by seniority and the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. Army to resign his commission, Johnston’s name remains almost unknown to the general public compared to Lee, Jackson, and Stuart.

The presentation “Gone with the Wind: The Controversial Legacy and Forgotten Memory of Joseph E. Johnston”, details General Johnston’s life and vast military involvements, addresses his controversies and problematic relationships, and seeks to explain why he has seemed to fade from memory. By presenting different viewpoints and perspectives, it is hoped that listeners will be able to better understand Johnston’s personality, behavior, and actions, while being able to form their own opinions of him.

David Hsueh is a second year political science major at West Valley College who is awaiting transfer into a UC for Fall 2024. As an avid history learner since kindergarten, his first introduction to the American Civil War came when he read about President Lincoln. However, his true passion for the Civil War began after his first viewing of the movie Gettysburg, and his subsequent visits to the Gettysburg and Antietam Battlefields at age 11. His favorite book on the Civil War is Adam Goodheart’s 1861: The Civil War Awakening.

His current research lies with the First Manassas/Bull Run Campaign. Reading Joseph E. Johnston: A Civil War Biography by Craig Symonds, and his studies of the campaign, have led him to develop a strong curiosity for General Johnston because of his controversial standing amongst Civil War buffs and historians alike.

Quiz for January 30, 2024

Civil War Quiz: What Do You Know About John Brown?

Q#1 –When and where was John Brown born?

Q#2 – How did Brown’s parents, Owen Brown and Ruth Mills describe their son, John Bron?

Q#3 – When the Brown family moved to Hudson, Ohio, what was the name of the man who ingrained in a young John Brown the seeds of Abolition?

Q#4 – John Brown’s father became a leading and wealthy citizen of Hudson and operated a tannery. Which future US President’s father was employed at the tannery?

Q#5 – With no school beyond the elementary level in Hudson at that time, how did John Brown acquire additional academic education?

Q#6 – When he was 12 years old and away from home moving cattle, what incident did he witness that John Brown decided to dedicate his life to improving African Americans’ condition?

Q#7 – Where did John Brown plan to get his higher education?

Q#8 – After returning home, what profession did John Brwon teach himself from a book?”

Q#9 – John Brown knew the Bible thoroughly and could catch even small errors in Bible recitation. After the Bible, what were his favorite books read?

Q#10 – In 1836, what incident further reinforced John Brown’s Abolitionist fervor?

Q#11 – In 1850, the United States passed the Fugitive Slave Act, a law mandating that authorities in free states aid in the return of escaped slaves and imposing penalties on those who aid in their escape. What action did John Bron take in response to this new law?

Q#12 – The Pottawatomie massacre occurred in Kansas during the night of May 24 and the morning of May 25, 1856. Under John Brown’s supervision, his sons and other abolitionist settlers did what?

Q#13 – At the start of the raid at Harper’s Ferry, what initial actions did John Brown perform?

Q#14 – After experiencing some initial success, what mistake did Brown make that led to Federal and State forces being alerted to the raid?

Q#15 – Why was John Brown’s trial conducted by the State of Virginia and not by the Federal Government?

Meeting of November 28, 2023

Alan Sissenwein and Jim Rhetta on “Wargaming: Napoleon at Waterloo”

Basic wargaming can acquaint players with the same battlefield factors and limitations faced by Civil War generals. These factors include different combat strengths of units, terrain effects on movement and combat, and different rates of movements between infantry, artillery and cavalry units. Wargames also demonstrate the amount and differences in firepower between attackers and defenders that are needed to achieve planned results.

The game to be played is Napoleon at Waterloo, a basic and fast-moving game that gives players a feel for the tactical factors of that battle. The game rules will be explained to the players, who will maneuver their 26 units and engage in simulated combat with them to achieve a battlefield decision.

Alan Sissenwein has been a member of the South Bay Civil War Round Table since 1997 and currently serves as its vice president. A professional writer, he holds a bachelor’s degree in history from UC Berkeley and a master’s in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He is currently writing the second draft of a book on the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Jim Rhetta retired from Lockheed Corp, and also retired from the USAF Reserve as a Colonel in the Intelligence Community. In both careers he monitored, analyzed and reported on global conflicts and crisis for the DoD Community. His careers required him to write and present Daily Intelligence Briefings, threat assessments, and weekly activity reports. He published classified books on foreign air defense threats and Order-of -Battles. He continues to monitor both current events and historical subjects for their impact on us today.

Quiz for November 28, 2023

What Do You Know About the Civil War Peace Conference?

Q#1 – When was the Civil War Peace Conference held?

Q#2 – What historical name has been traditionally given to the conference?

Q#3 – What unique facility was used to hold the Conference?

Q#4 – Who was the Lead Union Representative?

Q#5 – Who was the Lead Confederate Representative?

Q#6 – What position did the Confederate representative hold in the Confederate government?

Q#7 – Who else besides the Lead Union representative attended the Conference for the Union?

Q#8 – There were two additional individuals other than the Lead Confederate Representative that attended the Conference on behalf of the Confederacy. Who were they?

Q#9 – In response to pressure from some in the Confederate government to seek a peaceful versus military end to the war, Confederate President Jefferson Davis extended what proposal to President Lincoln.

Q#10 – In preparation for the Conference, Jefferson Davis gave his three commissioners instructions to explore all options except one; what was that exception?

Q#11 – What was the main reason that the Union Congress was shaken by the news of possible peace negotiations with the Confederacy?

Q#12 – What was the main reason that the Radical Republicans in Congress were opposed to the Conference?

Q#13 – After the Conference began, the Union representatives put forth several conditions that were mandatory in order to end the war through peace negotiations – what were these conditions?

Q#14 – During the negotiations, the question of slavery was discussed, specifically Emancipation Proclamation. How did the Union representatives describe the scope of the Proclamation?

Q#15 – What was Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s reaction to what the Union representatives had proposed at the Conference?