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2012 2013 Civil War Years 1862 to 1863


September 25, 2012


Speaker: BG John Mountcastle

Topic: The Testing Time

Former U.S. Army Chief of Military History, Brigadier General John W. "Jack" Mountcastle, U.S. Army (Retired), is our kick-off speaker for the critical 2012-2015 sesquicentennial years in this region, General Mountcastle will speak to us on the momentous Civil War period from fall 1862 to summer 1863 from a distance of 150 years. His presentation is:

"The Testing Time: Six months that would have lasting effects on the Civil War in the East." The offensive actions of the Army of the Potomac and the responses offered by the Army of Northern Virginia during the six months from November, 1862, to June, 1863, would impact the two field armies, the governments they represented, and the Commonwealth of Virginia for the rest of the Civil War in the East. Our discussion of this critically important period will focus on two major events, the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, but will not be limited to these combat operations. During that period there were significant changes in the leadership of the Union army and also a series of difficult challenges to be met by the Confederates.

Originally from Richmond, VA, General Mountcastle graduated from the Virginia Military Institute with a B.A. in history in 1965 and was commissioned in the Armor branch. During his 32-year Army career, he commanded tank units at all levels from platoon through armored brigade. He served twice in Vietnam and spent a total of ten years in Germany during the Cold War. During the 1970s, Jack earned an M.A. and Ph.D. from Duke University and taught Military History at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Promoted to Brigadier General in 1994, he assumed the duties of the Army Chief of Military History in Washington, D.C. He received the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star Medal, four Legions of Merit, and two Bronze Star Medals during his military service.

After retiring in 1998, he returned to Richmond and became the Director of Heritage Tourism Development at the Virginia Tourism Corporation. After several years, he followed his heart back to the classroom and has been teaching Civil War history courses at the University of Richmond since 2001. He frequently lectures at the Virginia Historical Society, serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations, and is the President of the Richmond Civil War Round Table. He maintains his active interest in leadership studies and leads professional development programs for military and corporate groups at selected battle areas in the United States and in Europe. He and his wife, Susan, make their home in Glen Allen, Virginia.
We hope you will join us for our kick-off event for the 2012-2013 Program Year.

Al Conner, President

October 15, 2012

Feedback On A Terrific Presentation

Last months guest speaker, BG John W. Jack Mountcastle, USA (Retired), former Chief of Military History, expressed his deep appreciation for your warm welcome and lively questions as he provided us with an outstanding overview of the fall 1862- summer 1863 campaign year. He was quite impressed with our group and, as he is the current president of the Richmond Civil War Round Table as well, we should all take that as quite a compliment.

October 24th & November 28, 2012

Speaker: Frank A. O'Reilly

Topic: The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock Part I...Battle of Fredericksburg & Part II...Fredericksburg to the Mud March

Our generals eye view of the Civil War in this region at a distance of 150 years continues with guest speaker Francis A. OReilly and his talk, based on The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock. For the first time in our 55-year history, our Wednesday, October 24th and Wednesday, November 28th meetings will take the unprecedented step of devoting two meetings to a particular event. At these two meetings, Mr. OReilly will guide us in our journey to fully understand the momentous battle and its sequel, the infamous Mud March, which nearly brought the Unions premier army to the point of disintegration. As the author of the book the venerable Ed Bearss described as a tour de force, a must read, one of the best and most informative books I have seen in recent years. In a graceful and elegant style, OReilly masters an awesome challenge. He integrates the nuts and bolts of one of the Civil Wars significant but often overlooked campaigns. He highlights action by the decision makers but does not forget the horrific experiences of soldiers and civilians caught up in the kind of life-and-death struggle in an urban environment that would become commonplace in twentieth-century warfare. Franks study has accurately been called by Gordon C. Rhea the definitive and eminently readable account of the Fredericksburg Campaign as he marches to the foremost rank of modern military historians. That is no small praise considering some of the other works on the campaign, especially those of LTG Edward J. Stackpole (1957) and Gordon C. Rable (2002). Frank, a career National Park Service historian with the National Park Service at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, is also the author of Stonewall Jackson at Fredericksburg: The Battle of Prospect Hill and numerous articles. Appropriate to his career pursuits as well as our treatment of the first of Lees greatest victories, he is a graduate of Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA, and previously lived in Guinea, VA, near the Jackson Shrine. He now lives with wife Amy near Salem Church in Spotsylvania County, VA. Come join us for a tour de force of our own, led by the most knowledgeable historian on the subject. This meeting will also include a 5:30-6:00 PM book signing with a limited number of books available and a sign-up sheet for those who miss out and wish to order.

October 28, 2012

Feedback On O'Reilly--Terrific Presentation to a Terrific Turnout

I'm sure everyone will agree that Frank O'Reilly's talk was outstanding providing important insights into our understanding of the Battle of Fredericksburg. We'll try to allow for more time for questions at the November meeting. I submitted my questions to him in an email. My specific questions to Frank were:

Q1. What exactly happened with the rest of the Federal artillery -- the more than half of which went into Fredericksburg? Did they ever get into positions and render effective fire in support of the attacks?

A1. Federal artillery on the southern end of the battlefield did a superlative job supporting the principal effort. Union guns on the northern end of the battlefield met with several critical setbacks. Long-range guns on Stafford Heights could reach the Confederate heights, but they lost all accuracy in firing at extreme range. An attempt to move light guns out of town initially failed because the infantry commanders had brought over smoothbore Napoleons. There was a long delay while rifled pieces were funneled across the river to replace them. Then the rifled pieces suffered from want of commanding positions. Confederate artillery not only held the dominant topography, it also had several weeks to familiarize itself with all of the landscape and landmarks to cover every contingency. When Union guns attempted to enter the field, they were smothered. When they set up on the western edge of the city, they still had to fire uphill at the crest of Marye's Heights. Most of their shells ranged long. And again, the Confederates easily zeroed in on them. Tough break for the Federal artillery.

Q2. Did anyone ever attempt to hasten movement of the XI and XII Army Corps to get them involved in the Southern attacks?

A2. Franz Sigel's so-called Reserve Grand Division was deliberately left behind around Stafford Court House and points north to guard the Army of the Potomac's overland line of communications. They were responsible for everything from Stafford up to Prince William--and then Samuel P. Heintzelman, head of the Washington defenses, had to worry about it. The XI and XII Corps only closed on Burnside's primary force once it became apparent the Fredericksburg operation had failed and they were going to turn Stafford into an armed winter camp.

Q3. Why didn't the Federal cavalry ever get into the fight?

A3. Hemmed in by the river, the city, and the heights, Union cavalry was relegated to a relatively passive role in the initial phase of the battle. Northern cavalrymen attempted to recon the Lansdowne Valley on December 12 and met with a pretty serious counterattack from Hood's division. From that moment on, it appears (from the placement of the cavalry units on the field) that Burnside expected the cavalry's role would be the pursuit element in a breakout of the Rappahannock Valley. Once Lee was driven from the heights, Bayard's cavalry was primed to seize the principal roads southward. Pleasonton's cavalry remained on Stafford Heights with the ability to pursue west along the Plank Road or south along the Richmond Stage Road--or stretch behind the advancing Army of the Potomac and guard the line of communications. As it was, only the 1st Pennsylvania Reserve Cavalry and 1st New Jersey Cavalry saw action near Deep Run on December 12; and the Pennsylvanians ended up skirmishing on the Union far left on December 13. Only the 8th Illinois Cavalry came under long-range shell fire while guarding the northern approaches to Fredericksburg from a position along the canal.

Al Conner, President

January 25 & February 27, 2013

Speaker: Al Connor

Topic: Union Army’s “Valley Forge” 1863: 93 Days That Saved America

Is there such a thing as new Civil War history? Thousands of books have been written about our greatest national challenge. The battles have been endlessly re-fought. The leaders have been analyzed and re-analyzed even psychoanalyzed to the point that its sometimes hard to believe that anything remains to be discussed. Our January and February speaker, Al Conner, believes there definitely is something new and that he has discovered it hiding in plain view in Official Records between the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville and in the collection of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Parks primary sources. Amazingly, from the stand point of our Round Table, it all took place here in the Rappahannock Region between January to April in the winter of 1863. His research is embodied in his forthcoming book, Union Armys Valley Forge 1863: 93 Days That Saved America. In his talks to us, he will put forth the case that the Union Army of the Potomac, unable to defeat Lees Army of Northern Virginia, turned itself around in an outstanding epic of generalship and military leadership and pointed itself toward victory in the wars Eastern Theater. Al likes to refer to this as the most significant Civil War story you've never heard of and hopes that will all change and shed more favorable light on the actors. Following this years sesquicentennial theme, his talks will present the case from the perspective of the Federal generals and the challenges they faced and overcame. Well pick up the trail of historians BG Jack Mountcastle and Frank OReilly as we continue to trace the Civil War history of 1862-1863 in our region 150 years ago. Al will discuss all of the facets of military affairs which are woven into the tapestry of this story. He believes that those who seek the truth of history will ultimately, as did over one thousand Union soldiers at that time, proclaim this their own Valley Forge, a non-battle turning point during a strategic pause in the fighting. Were sure youll find this topic fascinating and you are guaranteed to discover something new.

Al Conner is the current president of the Round Table, having previously served two terms earlier in this decade. A graduate of the Virginia Military Institute (BA, history) and Georgetown University (MA, government; certificate in national security studies), served in the Regular U.S. Army infantry and military intelligence branches for 12 years, including tours in Vietnam in both branches and five years in the 82ndAirborne Division. He then served with the Defense Intelligence Agency for 18 years (including a 12-year detail with the Central Intelligence Agency). During his intelligence career he studied the armies of China, North Korea, Vietnam, and the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact states. He has also extensively studied the history of the U.S. Army. He has published two books, contributed to a third, and authored over twenty articles in professional journals. He is also a four-time past president of the Stafford County Historical Society and this year marks his 16th year of active membership in our Round Table.

Al Conner, President

March 22 & April 23, 2013

Speaker: John Hennessy

Topic: Make Richmond Howl! : Prelude to Chancellorsville

Our Sesquicentennial 2012-2013 Generals Eye view of the critical events taking place in the Rappahannock Region continues with the momentous battles of Second Fredericksburg/Chancellorsville. The dramatic sequence of events has emerged in the talks by BG Jack Mountcastle with his strategic and operational overview of 1862-1863; Frank OReilly on the Fredericksburg and Mud March Campaign; and Al Conner on the Army of the Potomacs Valley Forge. Our unique, two-months per subject format also continues as we confront the series of battles which have been termed both Lees Greatest Victory and The Smoothbore Volley that Doomed the Confederacy (the death of Stonewall Jackson). As we have already seen, it was to be Hookers opportunity to manifest the finest army on the planet in such a way as to solidify command and push on to victory in the East. It represented the first opportunity for the Army of the Potomacs cavalry corps to fight as a major unit. Many questions would be answered as the Federal army moved out of their Stafford and King George camps in late April 1863. Could the Federals execute their brilliant plan? Was Lee's army truly invincible? And, if so, what would happen next? No one is better suited to objectively and dispassionately guide us through this history than John J. Hennessy, Chief Historian and Chief of Interpretation, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

John has been at the substantive forefront of this regions efforts to preserve, protect, understand, and appreciate our Civil War history. He has been a perfect advocate for telling the whole story of the Civil War with integrity, all of the time to the vast range and large numbers of Americans and people from other countries who come here to discover what took place. He has moved smoothly through and facilitated interactions with academic, popular, public and regional historical groups. After service as a historian at Manassas National Battlefield, he authored two excellent and definitive books, The Battle of Manassas andReturn to Bull Run. The latter work was named a Civil War 100 classic book by Civil War magazine and was a History Book Club Main Selection. His many other publications include a brilliant analysis of the Army of the Potomac on the eve of Chancellorsville. Johns behind the scenes historical activities are equally impressive: he chaired the regions Sesquicentennial Committee with many signature events taking place right here. John has also greatly assisted Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc., the Fredericksburg Area Museum, Staffords the Yankees in Falmouth! (and Confederates too!) living history events, and many more. So, start the long-roll for assembly and join us for these special meetings in anticipation of the next big commemorations and reenactments.

Al Conner, President

May 26, 2013

Speaker: Eric Wittenberg

Topic: Federal Cavalry: Brandy Station To Gettysburg

Our "general's eye" program-year focusing on the 1862-1863 years is culminating with the story of the creation of the Army of the Potomac's Cavalry Corps in Stafford on February 5, 1863, and its rapidly being thrust (embarrassingly, 20 days later) into action at Hartwood Church and then launching the first large Federal raid at Kellys Ford (March 17th). Measured from these key events, our speaker will describe the Federal cavalrys' Coming-of-Age, Stonemans Raid in April and May in conjunction with the Chancellorsville battles would reveal the flaws in the corps initial leadership and the need to purge Stoneman and Averell. Surviving commanders, Pleasonton, Gregg, and Buford would perform better at Brandy Station by surprising Stuart on a large scale and engaging in violent cavalry-on-cavalry combat. All of this set in motion the rapid development of the young generals who would lead the Cavalry Corps to decisive victory in the East - Wesley Merritt, Ranald Mackenzie, and George Custer. Later, in 1863, the deployment of the new seven-shot Spencer repeating carbine and the best of modern horse care at the new, $2.5 million Giesboro, MD facility (capable of handling up to 30,000 horses at a time) were critical additions. Under Sheridan, in 1864, the Cavalry Corps was fully capable of engaging any Confederate Cavalry or Infantry force. The Corps opened the road to Appomattox two years later and slammed the door on Robert E. Lee's Army.

As important as this all was, it is equally significant to understand the contemporary decline of the Confederate cavalry during this same period.

Our culminating speaker for May is Eric J. Wittenberg who is coming from Columbus, Ohio to speak to us. He has combined his legal career with the remarkable production of over 16 books and 24 articles all on the Federal Cavalry. Many of these works have brought him to national attention and specifically to the Rappahannock Region.

A native of the Philadelphia area, he graduated from Dickinson College (incidentally, the same alma mater as Stafford Abolitionist Moncure Daniel Conway) and holds both Law and Public and International Affairs graduate degrees from the University of Pittsburgh.

For a number of reasons, we want our May 22nd meeting to be the biggest of the year. First, our guest speaker, Eric Wittenberg, is the foremost expert on the Federal cavalry. Second, this is the 150 Anniversary of the birth of the Cavalry Corps in Stafford County during the Army of the Potomacs Valley Forge resurgence. Third, we will elect our officers for the next year (and will be returning to our previous practice of the newly-elected officers running our final June meeting.) Finally, we will host the largest exhibit of cavalry artifacts, documents and relics in our CWRTs 56 year history, in conjunction with two pictorial arrays on the birth and subsequent history of the Cavalry Corps. You can show your support for all weve tried to achieve this program year by maximum attendance at our May meeting.

Al Conner, President

June 26 2013

Speaker: Col Glenn Trimmer, USAF (Ret)

Topic: Stafford County Civil War Park: Union 11th Corps Encampment Site for "Valley Forge" Winter of 1862/63

Col. Trimmer, our culminating speaker for this program year, was raised in Staunton VA. He moved in the 9thgrade to Richmond where he graduated from Manchester High School. He is a 1977 VMI graduate and 25-year USAF veteran. After military retirement he worked first with the Boeing Missile Defense Systems Engineering Team, Crystal City VA for 5 years, and then with Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, Dahlgren VA for three more, retiring in 2010 as Chief of Staff to the Aegis BMD Systems Engineer.

Glenn and his wife Becky live in Stafford and have one son Ross, a daughter-in-law Erin, and one grandson Oliver, who all live in Richmond.

At our next meeting, Glenn Trimmer, Executive Director of the Friends of Stafford Civil War Sites, will provide us an overview with photos of the eight-year effort by the FSCWS to preserve and open a Civil War park in Stafford County. The park opened on April 27, 2013 and preserves multiple historical sites related to Union encampments, fortifications, and roads the Army of the Potomac built during the winter of 1862-1863. This is where the Valley Forge of the Union Army happened, which our outgoing president Al Conner spoke about so eloquently at our January and February meetings.

Al Conner, President

Civil War Round Table of Fredericksburg

Civil War Round Table of Fredericksburg
Civil War Round Table of Fredericksburg
Civil War Round Table of Fredericksburg

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