Category Archives: Meeting archive

Meeting of June 25, 2019

Bill Yenne on “The Civil War Careers of Tom Custer”

The life, the legacy, and the Civil War years of Captain Thomas Ward Custer have long been overshadowed by those of his older brother—George Armstrong Custer—yet he was significant in his own right as the first soldier ever to be awarded two Medals of Honor. Tom fought at his brother’s side through the climactic battles of 1865 and during campaigns in the West, yet it is widely forgotten that he had two distinct Civil War careers—the first as an enlisted infantryman in an Ohio regiment, and a second as a cavalry officer in a Michigan brigade. Bill Yenne pulls back the curtain from the life of the wrongly overlooked younger brother and tells the stories of those two Civil War careers.

Bill Yenne is the award-winning author of numerous works of military history, as well as books on other historical subjects, including a highly regarded biography of Sitting Bull, and several novels. His recent book, The Other Custers: Tom, Boston Nevin & Maggie in the Shadow of George Armstrong Custer, tells the compelling stories of Tom and the “other” siblings, and how not one, not two, but three of the brothers died at the Little Bighorn. He lives in San Francisco, and on the web at www.BillYenne.com.

Meeting of May 28, 2019

Libra Hilde on “African American Soldiers and the Civil War”

The talk explores the recruitment of African American men into the Union Army, their motivations for fighting, who fought, treatment and experiences in the army, and exemplary service. Although the talk given by Dr. Hilde in her university class only considers African American soldiers in the Union, she hopes to add information on the proposed recruitment of enslaved men into the Confederate Army, a plan that never came to fruition (the war was essentially over) and did not have the support of slaveholders.

Dr. Libra Hilde is a professor in History at San Jose State University. She received her Ph.D. at Harvard University in 2003. While she teaches a broad array of undergraduate and graduate courses, her research focuses on race and gender in the 19th century U.S., with a particular emphasis on the Civil War and slavery.

Meeting of April 30, 2019

Nick Adams on “A Civil War Story of the Family Left Behind”

What was the Civil War like for the families of those who chose to fight?

Nick Adams will be telling one such story in a thematic outline of his new book: Away at War: A Civil War Story of the Family Left Behind. This will be a follow-up to his presentation last year which focused on the 100 letters his great-great-grandfather wrote back from the Western Theater battlefields (My Dear Wife and Children: Civil War Letters from a 2nd Minnesota Volunteer).

He will share with us the terrible impact, the pain and anxiety, and the untold suffering war can cause the families of soldiers. With the winter of 1861 approaching, Minerva Griffin and her three young children are alone on the Minnesota prairie, for the husband and father of the family has left them for the fight to preserve the Union. She is now responsible for preserving both farm and family for his hoped-for eventual return. It is a true tale, developed from his letters home, of the difficult struggle to survive experienced by those left behind.

Nick Adams

Nick Adams’s passion for the American Civil War began at the age of nine, when his mother first told him about her great-grandfather, David Brainard Griffin, who had fought with the 2nd Minnesota Regiment of Volunteers, and had been killed at the Battle of Chickamauga. What she didn’t tell him about at that time was the 100 preserved letters he had written back to his young family on the Minnesota prairie … because she didn’t know about them, for they had been passed down in another branch of the family. When they were finally shared with her some forty years ago, she was permitted to make a single copy, which she graciously gave to Nick because she knew of his life-long interest. The originals are presumed no longer to survive, but his copies have been deposited with the Minnesota Historical Society.

Following post-graduate studies in Church History (Abilene Christian) and Sociology of Religion (University of Iowa), Nick spent 30 years in Pastoral Ministry and Social Justice, then returned to teaching, this time at the Elementary School level, and completed 20 years in the classroom. It was during those classroom years that the letters were given to him. By reading his personal account of involvement in the conflict, they became the perfect instrument for creating student interest in the period.

Since retirement, Nick has authored three books about the letters. Last spring he presented to our roundtable his story, as related in the letters (My Dear Wife and Children: Civil War Letters from a 2nd Minnesota Volunteer). This year he will tell his family’s story: Away at War: A Civil War Story of the Family Left Behind.

Meeting of March 26, 2019

Tom Roza on “American Revolution vs. the Civil War: Similarities and Differences”

The two most momentous events in the history of the United States of America occurred less than a century apart; the Revolutionary War occurred in 1775-1783 and the Civil War in 1861-1865. The objective of the Revolutionary War was to create United States of America; the objective of the Civil War was to preserve it. Being a student of history for over 60 years and having conducted extensive research into the root causes for each of these two conflicts, there are numerous social, economic, and political similarities – as well as some differences.

From a high level, people living in the Thirteen Colonies, because of the vast geographical distance from England and Europe in general, and the mixing of different ethnic cultures, with each passing day, were drifting further apart from their European ancestors. In the United States, the North had become more urban, industrialized, and its citizens were more migrant that produced a philosophy that America was a “Union of States”. Conversely, the South was more rural, agrarian, and its population was more sedentary; generation after generation grew up and lived in the same towns and counties; that produced a philosophy that America was a “Collection of Independent States”.

From a social perspective for the period leading up to the Revolutionary War, while most of the people living in the thirteen colonies were of English ancestry, cohabitating with other European ethnic groups as well as being in close proximity to Native American Indians produced a vastly different set of values from those living in England and other European countries. The American colonists saw themselves as more independent and were creating a more homogenous society. For the period leading up to the Civil War, American citizens living in the North had retained that homogenous society perspective that resulted in a more inclusive citizenry. American citizens living in the South sociologically had evolved into a more exclusive society that supported slavery and viewed non-Caucasians and those from non-Protestant religions as foreigners.

From an economic perspective, the British Parliament used its power to impose numerous trade tariffs, barriers and regulations that retarded the economic growth of the colonies. Similarly, the United States Congress imposed numerous trade tariffs, barriers, and regulations that retarded the economic growth of the Southern States.

From a political perspective, the thirteen colonies had no representation in Parliament and were denied the same individual rights that were granted to citizens living in England. With the abolitionist movement in the North attempting to prevent slavery from being allowed in the new states being formed in the western territories, Southerners feared they would lose political power in Congress that would both perpetuate the imposition of unfair economic laws but also eventually result in the abolition of slavery throughout the United States.

The presentation “American Revolution vs. the Civil War: Similarities and Differences” takes in-depth look at these two momentous events.

Tom Roza has been a student of history for over 60 years. His interest in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War began with his elementary education in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and has evolved ever since. As an officer and the Secretary of the South Bay Civil War Roundtable, Tom has made numerous presentations on the topic of the Civil War to both his roundtable organization and other historical organizations in the Bay Area. Tom is also a published author of the book entitled Windows to the Past: A Virginian’s Experience in the Civil War, which has been accepted by the Library of Congress into its catalog. Tom is currently working on a sequel.

Meeting of February 26, 2019

Mike MacDonald on “Civil War Swords”

Mike McDonald is a sword collector with over 200 in his collection. He will cover the different sword patterns, designs, and manufactures of the Civil War era. The foreign influence on US sword designs was strong and due to a continuous shortage, foreign manufacturers supplied many of the swords used on both sides in the conflict. Although they accounted for a very small percentage of casualties, they were a highly visible item in the war due to regulations that officers carry them as a symbol of rank and authority.

Meeting of January 29, 2019

Jim Tortorici on “Federal Ironclads and Their Technology”

During the Civil War, the CSS Virginia, a captured and rebuilt Union steam frigate formerly known as the USS Merrimac,engaged the USS Monitor in the first battle between iron-fortified naval vessels in history. The ironclad warships proved their value in battle. No longer would wooden ships be viable in war. The battle had changed the course of naval warfare.

USS Cairo

The Union built a formidable force of river ironclads, beginning with several converted riverboats and then contracted engineer James Eads of St. Louis, Missouri, to build the City-class ironclads. These excellent ships were built with twin engines and a central paddle wheel, all protected by an armored casement. They had a shallow draft, allowing them to journey up smaller tributaries, and were very well suited for river operations. They were not as heavily armored as the ocean-going monitors of the Union, but they were adequate for their intended use. More Western Flotilla Union ironclads were sunk by torpedoes (mines) than by enemy fire, and the most damaging fire for the Union ironclads was from shore installations, not Confederate vessels.

Jim’s presentation will cover the armor, engine, and guns of the federal ironclads, focusing on the USS Cairo.

Jim Tortorici was born in 1946 in Chicago, IL. He spent much of his youth in Chicago and Westchester, IL, Ogden, UT, and moved to San Jose, CA, in 1960. He attended Campbell and Blackford High Schools graduating in 1964. In 1969, Jim graduated from San Jose State University with a BS in Industrial Arts specializing in Business and Industry. Jim received his MA in Industrial Technology in 1976 from San Jose State University.

Upon graduation from San Jose State University in 1969, Jim served on active duty for three years in the US Marine Corps and then entered the Reserves retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1995. Upon release from active duty, Jim was hired as a Design Draftsman in 1972 at Ford Motor Co in Milpitas, CA. In 1974 Jim was hired by IBM in San Jose retiring as an Advisory Engineer in 2001.

Jim has been married for 50 years to his wife Barbara. They have three children, eight grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

Jim’s interest in ship modeling began in his youth building plastic and wood models. This interest broadened to flying scale model aircraft and scale model railroad trains as an adult. Later Jim began specializing in ship models with his affiliation with the South Bay Model Shipwrights Club. Some of his more detailed projects include the HMS Victory, HMS Halifax, the 1678 Grosse Jacht, the USS Monitor, and currently the USS Cairo.

Meeting of November 27, 2018

Jim Rhetta on “Paying for the Civil War”

A very significant and invariably overlooked component to any conflict is that fact that it has to be paid for. Historian focus on tactical and strategic decisions and actions and commonly ignore the revenue sources necessary to maintain an effectively military force. Two examples will be presented of cases where Nations ran out of funds to continue a conflict, and the impacts of one to this day.

This presentation will cover how both sides funded their forces in the Civil War from the only three sources still available to nations today – Taxes, Bonds, and Printing Money. Both sides used a mix of these three sources in different ratios and faced social and economic limitations on how much could be extracted from each funding source. The amount of funds raised and management of the National economies involved had a strong correlation to the tactical results of the Civil War.

Meeting Minutes November 2018

Meeting of October 30, 2018

Robert Burch on “California in the Civil War: Defending the State 1861–1865″

Wartime photo of Camp Babbitt at Visalia, an alleged center of Confederate partisan activities

California’s involvement in the American Civil War remains one of the great hidden facets of that conflict. Many amateur historians and journalists in recent years have published articles in magazines or on the Internet discussing alleged Civil War events across California between 1862 and 1865. This presentation combines all documented events into one forum for a clear, concise and complete operational picture of what happened within the state during the last four years of the war. In hindsight, none of these events has any connection with the war. However, at that time they were so considered and reflect California’s involvement in the great struggle to preserve the Union. The story ends with the post-war return of Regular Army regiments.

The U.S. Army transitioned from combat to stability operations upon successfully securing the state for the Union in late 1861. The Army also transferred operational responsibly at the military district level to various California Volunteer regiments. These units conducted what we today call “military support to civil authority.” These ranged from operations against hostile Indian “war bands” to assistance to local law enforcement to counter common criminal gangs disguised as partisans. Concurrently the state militia supported local law enforcement agencies in some of the “California Squatter Wars” during this period. This story is presented in rough chronological order:

  • Background – Military Situation in January 1862
  • Events Shift North
  • San Jose, Healdsburg and Vallejo
  • Bald Hills Indian War (Omitted)
  • Owens Valley Indian War (Omitted)
  • Northeast California Indian Wars (Omitted)
  • Visalia
  • Santa Clara County
  • Preparation for War with France (Omitted)
  • Victory: End of California Secessionism & Return of Regular Army

This presentation omits discussion of the various Indian Wars and preparation for war with France to focus on alleged Civil War-related events. Omitted parts are part of the California wartime experience, but excluded due to time constraint. They are listed above simply to offer a complete outline of wartime military events within the state during the war.

Bob Burch is a native Californian, born and raised in Santa Clara County. He is also a lifetime student of the Civil War. He had the opportunity to visit many Civil War sites from Florida to Pennsylvania to New Mexico during his 30 year military career. Like many California CWRT members, he desires to understand his home state’s role in the war. He started collecting material for this presentation ten years ago and initiated a serious study 15 months ago. This series documents his research in great detail. Time allows only a few key points from each slide to be presented. Numerous period photographs and magazine drawings are included for visual effect with the intent of comprehending California’s role in the Civil War.

Meeting Minutes October 2018

Meeting of September 25, 2018

Abby Eller on “The Destruction of Slavery During the Civil War”

At the outbreak of the Civil War, as Southern white men went off to fight, everyone knew they could count on the labor and loyalty of their slaves back home. Or could they?

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation has been criticized for only freeing the slaves in the rebel states but not in the loyal states. It is said, it did not really free any slaves at all. Or … did it? Would it surprise you to know that tens of thousands of slaves were already emancipated before the Emancipation Proclamation?

Abby’s talk will cover the fascinating story behind the demise of slavery during the Civil War, and how decisive this was to the war’s outcome.

Meeting Minutes September 2018

Meeting of August 18, 2018

Ted Savas on “The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865.

LeRoy Wiley Gresham was born to an affluent slave-holding family in Macon, Georgia. A horrific leg injury left him an invalid, and the educated, inquisitive, perceptive, and exceptionally witty 12-year-old began keeping a diary in 1860–just as secession and the Civil War began tearing the country and his world apart. He continued to write even as his health deteriorated until both the war and his life ended in 1865. His unique manuscript of the demise of the Old South—lauded by the Library of Congress as one of its premier holdings—is published here for the first time in The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865.

LeRoy read books, devoured newspapers and magazines, listened to gossip, and discussed and debated important social and military issues with his parents and others. He wrote daily for five years, putting pen to paper with a vim and tongue-in-cheek vigor that impresses even now, more than 150 years later. His practical, philosophical, and occasionally Twain-like hilarious observations cover politics and the secession movement, the long and increasingly destructive Civil War, family pets, a wide variety of hobbies and interests, and what life was like at the center of a socially prominent wealthy family in the important Confederate manufacturing center of Macon. The young scribe often voiced concern about the family’s pair of plantations outside town, and recorded his interactions and relationships with “servants” Howard, Allen, Eveline, and others as he pondered the fate of human bondage and his family’s declining fortunes.

Unbeknownst to LeRoy, he was chronicling his own slow and painful descent toward death in tandem with the demise of the Southern Confederacy. He recorded—often in horrific detail—an increasingly painful and debilitating disease that robbed him of his childhood. The teenager’s declining health is a consistent thread coursing through his fascinating journals. “I feel more discouraged [and] less hopeful about getting well than I ever did before,” he wrote on March 17, 1863. “I am weaker and more helpless than I ever was.” Morphine and a score of other “remedies” did little to ease his suffering. Abscesses developed; nagging coughs and pain consumed him. Alternating between bouts of euphoria and despondency, he often wrote, “Saw off my leg.”

The War Outside My Window, edited and annotated by Janet Croon with helpful footnotes and a detailed family biographical chart, captures the spirit and the character of a young privileged white teenager witnessing the demise of his world even as his own body slowly failed him. Just as Anne Frank has come down to us as the adolescent voice of World War II, LeRoy Gresham will now be remembered as the young voice of the Civil War South.

Theodore P. Savas is an award-winning author, attorney, publishing consultant, and the managing director of one of America’s leading independent publishing companies (Savas Beatie LLC: www.savasbeatie.com). Ted founded the South Bay Civil War Round Table in 1989; its first meeting of four people was held in his living room in San Jose.

Meeting Minutes August 2018