Category Archives: Meeting archive

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.

Meeting of April 25, 2023

Ron Vaughan on “The Franco-Mexican Conflict”

Ron will present on the first year (1862) of the French Intervention in Mexico. Mexico’s civil war is related to ours in several ways (topic of another of his lectures): There was concern in the USA that the French could intervene on behalf of the Confederacy; Mexican volunteers fought on both sides, and at the end of our war; Union and Confederates volunteered in the armies of both the Republic and the Imperials; historians often overlook that the Rio Grande River was a large hole in the Union Navy ‘s blockade; while the US Sanitary Commission held fund-raisers, many Northern cities also formed “Juarez Societies” to raise money for the Mexican Republican armies; Cinco De Mayo is a big holiday among US Hispanics.

Ron Vaughan, MA, graduated from California State University Fresno in 1970 with a BA in history and a Secondary Teaching Credential. After an interlude of teaching, he earned a MA in history in 1978. At this point he decided to keep history as a hobby and served as a Social Worker for 33 years (last 9 in HIV-AIDS Case Management), until 2008. Since then he has volunteered for various community boards, especially as head docent at the Tulare City Historical Museum. He has been a member of the San Joaquin Valley Civil War Round Table Since 1995, and currently is the Secretary-Treasurer and newsletter editor. He has given lectures on the Mexican War, Trans-Mississippi Civil War: Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign, and the history of African American Soldiers. He has had magazine articles and books/booklets published on African Colonial Warfare, the Spanish Civil War of 1930s, the Mexican War, and “Viva Juarez” on the French Intervention in Mexico. He has been a re-enactor of many historical periods from Ancient Rome to WW II. Also, he is an avid participant in historical miniature war games and a 2018 Jerry Russel Award winner.

Meeting of March 28, 2023

Alan Sissenwein on “Antietam: A Pivotal Diplomatic Turning Point in the Civil War”

“Battle of Antietam” by Kurz & Allison

After a summer of military victories, Robert E. Lee invaded Maryland on September 2, 1862, precipitating the greatest crisis the Union would face in the Civil War. The governments of Britain and France were following Lee’s progress closely. The British were considering granting the Confederacy formal recognition if Lee continued his string of battlefield successes, and the French planned to follow Britain’s lead. For Jefferson Davis, foreign recognition offered the possibility of securing Confederate independence. Abraham Lincoln, for his part, needed a Union victory in Maryland as a prelude to issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, a measure that would, in addition to its sweeping social effects, do much to undermine Confederate support in Europe.

With November mid-term elections looming in the North, the campaign was also important to domestic politics. Lee hoped a Union military defeat would lead to a Republican defeat at the polls that would make it impossible for Lincoln to continue the war.

With so much at stake, no other military campaign would be more vital to determining the Civil War’s outcome than the Antietam campaign.

Alan Sissenwein has been a member of the South Bay Civil War Round Table since 1997 and currently serves as its vice president. He holds a bachelor’s 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 nonfiction book about the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Meeting of February 28, 2023

Jean Libby on “Kansas Free State Battery, 1856”

Commanding a crude dugout fortification, the daguerreotype of a cannon with a battery of six men records the first battles of the American Civil War known as Bleeding Kansas. This presentation suggests a more specific date than that in the Kansas Historical Society “September 1856,” the probable location as Lawrence, Kansas, and attributed photographer as John Bowles. The donor of the image was the abolitionist Rev. Thomas Wentworth Higginson. The presentation documents identities of the men of the cannon battery as close associates of John Brown, including one of his sons. Subsequent interaction with Brown and service during the Civil War is remarked.

“Old Sacramento,” which some Kansas historians and the author Jean Libby suggest is at the center of the daguerreotype, is a six-pound bronze cannon taken in the Mexican-American War in 1847. In his famous epic march, Col. Alexander Doniphan and the 1st Missouri Volunteers Regiment rolled the artillery over 900 miles to the Mexican Gulf Coast, steamed up the Mississippi to St. Louis, then brought ten cannons to Kansas Territory in 1856. “Old Sacramento” changed possession four times between Proslavery and Free State advocates in the battles of Bleeding Kansas.

The story seemed to end when the cannon exploded in 1896, filled with mud to attempt to raise bodies from the Kansas River. A second large piece was found in an archaeological dig in 2014. The Watkins Community Museum of History in Lawrence, which owns the relics, with the University of Kansas, has examined the artifacts and concluded the composition is “more like a church bell than a cannon” in public presentations held in 2021 and 2022. The manufacture of artillery using the Napoleonic methods of the late 17th and early 18th centuries is an integral part of the history for this presentation.

Jean Libby is a retired history instructor at California Community Colleges in northern California. John Brown publications: “After Harper’s Ferry: California Refuge for John Brown’s Family” in The Californians, January-February 1989; “John Brown’s Maryland Farmhouse” in Americana Magazine, January-February 1983 (with John Frye); author and photographer of Mean To Be Free: John Brown’s Black Nation Campaign, produced by the Radio and Television Station of the University of California, Berkeley, 1986.

“The John Brown Daguerreotypes” was published by The Daguerrean Society in The Daguerreian Annual 2002-2003: 31-50. Jean curated and published John Brown Photo Chronology, catalog of the exhibition at Harpers Ferry 2009 with a Supplement in 2016. The traveling collection has been exhibited by the National Archives and Records Administration at Philadelphia (2010), the Gallery of the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka (2011), and the Watkins Community Museum of History in Lawrence (2012).