Category Archives: Meeting archive

Meeting of May 28, 2024

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.

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.

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.

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.

Meeting of November 1, 2023

Chuck Seekamp on the “Iron Brigade”

Chuck Seekamp started to investigate the Iron Brigade while reading about the Stonewall Brigade. It seemed that these two units met quite a bit and then stopped. Why? The history of Iron Brigade shows why.

Chuck got interested in the Civil War in high school back in the late 50s. He joined the NCWA about 30 years ago. He started in the Confederate Artillery, then as a favor, after 6 or 7 years, switched over to the Confederate Medical Unit. He has read enough books to forget most titles and authors but does remember most of what they say or their opinions on subjects. He has been with the Round Table for about 15 years.

Meeting of September 26, 2023

Opposing Views: If the newly formed Confederate government had chosen to immediately export as much cotton as possible, instead of withholding it from European markets, could the Confederacy have prevailed?

Could the Confederacy Have Prevailed? YES (Abby Eller)

If Only: The Confederacy could’ve leveraged their “white gold” to prevail. If only the leadership had made some simple yet crucially important decisions that would have made all the difference.

Could the Confederacy Have Prevailed? NO (Jim Rhetta)

If the Confederacy could have exported as much cotton as possible they would not have won, too many other non-cotton factors precluded it. Principal cotton factors against it include: 1. There was a glut of cotton in England which was not used up until fall of 1862. 2. The harvest of 1861 ran from July to October, and the blockade would have been strengthened by that time. 3. The harvest of 3 million bales could not be transported via inadequate rail lines in a combat environment, faced insufficient warehouse storage, and insufficient shipping to move to England.

Abby Eller is President of the Peninsula Civil War Roundtable. She has no ancestors who fought in the Civil War as far as she knows. Growing up in Memphis, Tenn, Abby was intrigued by how the Civil War has meant so much to Southerners, a hundred years later. Civil War history includes much more than military history. Abby is fascinated by how the war transformed the course of American history. Throughout America, the war set in motion changes that are with us today.

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 impacts on us today.

Meeting of August 29, 2023

Mark Costin on the “Battles of Fort Fisher”

By late 1864 virtually every Southern port on the Atlantic seaboard besides Wilmington, DE, had been closed by the Federal blockade. As long as Wilmington remained open, blockade runners could continue to supply the Confederate forces in the eastern theater. South of Wilmington the Confederate army constructed some of the world’s most sophisticated fortifications for the time. A key fortress was Fort Fisher. This talk discusses the two two joint army-navy combined operations to take Fort Fisher and close the port of Wilmington. The first unsuccessful one in Dec. 1864 and the second successful attack in January 1865.

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.

Meeting of July 25, 2023

Ron Vaughan on “Fields of Blood, the Battle of Prairie Grove”

The main sources for this talk are the books by William Shea: Fields of Blood, the Battle of Prairie Grove and War in the West, a special issue of “Blue & Gray” magazine, plus a booklet printed by the Prairie Grove Battlefield Park, which Ron bought on a visit to the park. A helpful Park Ranger was able to confirm that Ron’s great grandfather, William R. Vaughan, was present with his regiment, the 13th Missouri Militia Cavalry!

Ron Vaughan has an MA in History and a Secondary Teaching Credential. His MA thesis was entitled “A Comparison of the Military Effectiveness of the US Army and Mexico, in 1846.”

He has written two published books: Viva Juarez, A Source Book for the French Intervention in Mexico, and Handbook for the Spanish Civil War, plus many magazine articles in military history related publications, most recently “Joe Shelby’s Odyssey in Mexico” in the “North & South” December 2022 issue. Ron has also been a re-enactor for periods of Roman times, American Civil War, WW I, and WW II. He is the Head Docent at the Tulare City Historical Museum and Secretary and Editor for the San Joaquin Valley Civil War Roundtable.

Meeting of June 27, 2023

Opposing Views: Could the South have ever received recognition from England?

Alan Sissenwein: YES

By 1862, the British economy was suffering badly as a result of the American Civil War. The Union blockade had cut off the flow of Southern cotton to Britain’s mills, forcing hundreds of them to close and putting over 400,000 textile workers out of their jobs or compelling them to accept only part-time employment. Pressure mounted on Lord Palmerston’s government to mediate an end to the war as a first step to reopening the mills. After the Union defeat at Second Manassas, Palmerston was seriously considering making an offer of mediation but planning to recognize the Confederacy if the Union rejected it. Lincoln would have almost certainly spurned such an offer, since mediation would have ended in Confederate independence. When Lee invaded Maryland in September, Palmerston was paying close attention to events, edging toward making his offer if Northern forces continued to suffer defeats.

Lee’s invasion thus opened a narrow window in which the Confederacy might have achieved recognition from Britain. As history played out, Union forces cornered Lee near Antietam creek and, after fighting a battle, forced him to withdraw to Virginia. Lee’s reverse cooled Palmerston’s ardor for diplomatically intervening in the Civil War, and it also allowed Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which severely undercut future chances for Confederate recognition abroad. Yet there was nothing inevitable about this result and, in fact, the outcome of the Antietam campaign had turned on a fluke. This talk will present a speculative scenario, based on fact, on how the Maryland campaign might have gained British recognition for the Confederacy.

Jim Retta: NO

A deep analysis of English accounts clearly indicates that England would never have recognized the confederacy. Lincoln’s government threatened war with England if they recognized the CSA. That would mean loss of 25% of England’s food, US privateers raiding UK commerce, and the expense of projecting forces to North America. The loss of confederate cotton did not disrupt the UK economy as much as expected and the slavery issue kept English society from formally accepting the CSA. Finally, Queen Victoria is known to have favored the USA and would never have let her government recognize a CSA that existed and fought to maintain slavery

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 career 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.