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2019 2020 Program Year

September 25, 2019

Topic: Confederate Defense of the Sunken Road

Speaker: Kevin Pawlak

Kevin seeks to answer questions about the Confederates in Antietam's Sunken Road, such as: was it actually a good defensive position?; why did the Confederate position fall?; did its fall mark a missed opportunity for the Army of the Potomac?; and what did the Confederates do to seal the hole in their line? In order to answer these questions, he looks at the topic from the perspectives of terrain, tactics, and the commanders and their personalities. Kevin also urges people to remember that this fight did not happen in a vacuum, and the field of action for the Sunken Road extends much farther beyond the road itself.

Kevin Pawlak is a Historic Site Manager for Prince William County's Historic Preservation Division and serves as a Certified Battlefield Guide at Antietam National Battlefield and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. He graduated from Shepherd University in 2014, majoring in History with a concentration in Civil War and 19th Century America and minoring in Historic Preservation. Kevin previously worked at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. He is on the Board of Directors for the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association and the Save Historic Antietam Foundation. He is also a regular contributor to the Emerging Civil War online blog. Kevin is currently working on a study of George B. McClellan and the Army of the Potomac in the Maryland Campaign. He is the author of three books, including To Hazard All: A Guide to the Maryland Campaign, 1862.

October 23, 2019

Topic: Memory of Self and Comrades Thomas Colley’s Recollections

Speaker: Michael K. Shaffer

Thomas W. Colley served in one of the most active and famous units in the Civil War, the 1st Virginia Cavalry, which fought in battles from First Manassas / Bull Run to the defense of Petersburg. In May 1861, along with the other members of the Washington Mounted Rifles, Colley left his home in Washington, Virginia and reported to camp in Richmond. During the war, he received wounds on three different occasions: first at Waterloo Bridge in 1862, again at Kelly’s Ford in 1863, and finally at Haw’s Shop in 1864. The wound received at Haw’s Shop resulted in the amputation of his left foot, thereby ending his wartime service.

Michael K. Shaffer is a Civil War Historian, instructor, lecturer, newspaper columnist, and author. He is a member of the Society of Civil War Historians, Historians of the Civil War Western Theater, Georgia Association of Historians, and Georgia Writers Association. Shaffer teaches Civil War Courses at Kennesaw State University’s College of Professional Education and at Emory University. He frequently lectures to various groups across the country.

November 20, 2019

Topic: Becoming Lincoln

Speaker: Dr. William Freehling

Previous biographies of Abraham Lincoln―universally acknowledged as one of America’s greatest presidents―have typically focused on his experiences in the White House. In Becoming Lincoln, renowned historian Dr. William Freehling instead emphasizes the prewar years, revealing how Lincoln came to be the extraordinary leader who would guide the nation through its most bitter chapter.

Dr. Freehling focuses anew on Lincoln’s journey. He highlights Lincoln’s difficult family life, first with his father and later with his wife. We learn about the staggering number of setbacks and recoveries Lincoln experienced as well as his famous embodiment of the self-made man (although he sought and received critical help from others).

Dr. Freehling traces Lincoln from his tough childhood through incarnations as a bankrupt with few prospects, a superb lawyer, a canny two-party politician, a great orator, a failed state legislator, and a losing senatorial candidate, to a winning presidential contender and a besieged six weeks as a pre-war president. As Lincoln’s individual life unfolds, so does the American nineteenth century. Few great Americans have endured such pain but been rewarded with such success. Few lives have seen so much color and drama. Few mirror so uncannily the great themes of their own society. No one so well illustrates the emergence of our national economy and the causes of the Civil War.

January 22, 2020

Topic: U.S.Grant and the Battle of the Wilderness

Speaker: Ryan Longfellow

Often historians of the 19th and 20th centuries portrayed U.S. Grant as an unimaginative general who overcame his adversary by sheer force of numbers. Ryan Longfellow challenges that view. The focus of his talk will be to examine the Battle of the Wilderness, not as a battle of attrition, but instead as U.S. Grant's attempt to decisively defeat the Confederate army. We will look at the role he played in creating the overall plan, his insertion into the tactical operations of the battle, and the decisions he made that shaped the remainder of the Overland Campaign.

Ryan Longfellow works as a history teacher and chairs the social studies department at Spotsylvania (Virginia) Middle School. In 2015 he was chosen as the Spotsylvania County mentor teacher of the year and the 2019 Spotsylvania Middle School teacher of the year. For more than fifteen years, Ryan worked as a park guide at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, interpreting the battlefields of central Virginia, including the Wilderness.


February 26, 2020

Topic: Call Out the Cadets The Battle of New Market

Speaker: Sarah Kay Bierle

The Battle of New Market, fought May 15, 1864, was the only time in American military history when college student body fought as a independent unit in a full battle. For the young men from Virginia Military Institute (VMI), life would never be the same after their participation in a decisive victory for Confederate General John Breckinridge's gathered army in the Shenandoah Valley. But what happened to the cadets after the battle? This presentation traces the lives and experiences of several cadets through their days at VMI to the battlefield, and to their later careers as successful citizens who moved to California.

Sarah Kay Bierle serves on staff at Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, is the managing editor for Emerging Civil War’s blog, and hosts an annual Civil War conference in California. A graduate from Thomas Edison State University with a B.A. in History, she has spent the last few years researching, writing, and speaking about the American Civil War. Her fourth book "Call Out The Cadets" - a nonfiction study on the Battle of New Market released in Spring 2019. Sarah is currently pursuing research on Confederate artillery officers, Civil War civilians, and the Union II Corps.


March 25, 2020 - Cancelled in response to COVID19 guidance

Topic: Burying the Dead but not the Past- "The Ladies Memorial Association"

Speaker: Dr. Caroline Janney

One hundred and forty years after the close of the Civil War, reminders of the Confederacy can be seen and in many ways felt in nearly every southern community. Rare is the southern town or city that cannot boast of a Confederate cemetery or, at the very least, a marble statue dedicated to its Confederate soldiers standing guard over the town square or courthouse lawn. Along with these physical reminders of the South’s history, numerous southern communities continue to observe many of the traditions put in place by the Ladies’ Memorial Associations (LMAS) in the 1860s.

Caroline E. Janney is the John L. Nau III Professor of the American Civil War and Director of the John L. Nau Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia. A graduate of the University of Virginia, she worked as a historian for the National Park Service and taught at Purdue University.  An active public lecturer, she has given presentations at locations across the globe. She is a speaker with the Organization of American Historians’ Distinguished Lectureship program and a recipient of the Kenneth T. Kofmehl Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award from Purdue’s College of Liberal Arts. She serves as a co-editor of the University of North Carolina Press’s Civil War America Series and is the past president of the Society of Civil War Historians. She has published five books, most recently Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation and Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia (both University of North Carolina Press).


April 22, 2020 - Cancelled in response to COVID19 guidance

Topic: The Generalship of Lee and Grant

Speaker: Gordon Rhea

More than a century and a half has elapsed since the Army of the Potomac crossed the James River and Baldy Smith’s 18th Corps pressed toward Petersburg, aiming to sever the Army of Northern Virginia’s main supply line.  The six weeks of combat preceding the movement on Petersburg represents the most intense continuous bout of warfare the continent has ever witnessed.  Each side’s premier general – Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee – matched wits and endurance in a campaign of combat and maneuver from the Rapidan River to the James.  Packed into those six horrific weeks were the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, the North Anna River, and Cold Harbor.

Gordon C. Rhea will present an appraisal of Grant’s and Lee’s generalship during the Overland Campaign, as the meeting engagement between these two talented warriors is popularly called.  The focus will be on the campaign’s final days at Cold Harbor and Grant’s decision to pry Lee from his formidable earthworks by slicing the Army of Northern Virginia’s main supply line at Petersburg.  The story is one of the most exciting in the annals of American military history.

Mr. Rhea received his B.A. in history from Indiana University, his M.A. in history from Harvard University, and his law degree from Stanford University Law School.  He served as Special Assistant to the Chief Counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities for two years and as an Assistant United States Attorney in Washington D.C. and the United States Virgin Islands for some seven years.  He has been in the private practice of law since 1983.

He has written seven award-winning books about the American Civil War, including The Battle of the Wilderness, The Battles at Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, To the North Anna River, Cold Harbor, On To Petersburg, Carrying the Flag, and In the Footsteps of Grant and Lee.  He has lectured across the country at the invitation of numerous historical societies, universities, and historic preservation organizations on topics of military history and the Civil War era and has served on the boards of historical societies, history magazines, and historical preservation organizations, including the Civil War Library and Museum, Philadelphia, the North and South magazine, and the Charleston South Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission.  Mr.  Rhea conducts fundraising tours for organizations that raise funds to purchase and preserve historical sites related to the Civil War era, including the Civil War Trust, the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, the Blue and Gray Education Society, and the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield. He has also appeared multiple times as a historian and presenter on nationwide television programs, including productions by The History Channel, A&E Channel, Discovery Channel, and C-Span.


May 20, 2020 - Cancelled in response to COVID19 guidance

Topic: Civil War Ordnance

Speaker: Colonel John F. Biemeck

Colonel John F. Biemeck was born in Illinois and is a life long black powder historian. As a child he heard stories about his families ordeal during the Civil War from family members and became interested in history. At age 11 he visited the Lookout Mountain Battlefield, saw his first black powder artillery projectile and developed a lifelong passion for black powder cannon balls and projectiles. Upon entering the U.S. Army, he learned black powder explosive ordnance procedures and realized how little had been documented on the deactivation of black powder projectiles. During the next fifty years, he pioneered black powder deactivation experiments and collected data on black powder projectiles, participating in the recovery of over 1,700 projectiles, circa 1776 to 1865. In the process he deactivated over 600 projectiles, making observations and recording data on the components, charges and the configuration of fuses and projectiles. His education includes a B.S. degree in business administration from Bowling Green State University and a Masters Degree in Industrial Management (with highest distinction) from Babson College. He entered the U.S. Army from college and became a career Ordnance officer. Following his retirement he managed Marriotts International Headquarters complex retiring again in 1997, to enter public service. He is the past president of the Colonial Beach Historical Society and the past curator of the Museum at Colonial Beach. He is also the past Vice Mayor of Colonial Beach, and served on the Town Council for over five years. He has compiled extensive data on black powder projectiles, has been a contributor to historical publications and is frequently contacted by EOD detachments and historians conducting black powder projectile research. He participated as an explosive munitions advisor in the recovery of explosive projectiles from the USS Westfield in Galveston Harbor, Texas and was commissioned to travel to Alaska to deactivate a historic projectile that had been fired into a Native Alaskan Indian village by the US Navy in 1869. The publication of this Encyclopedia is the capstone to over 50 years of research and the assembly of black powder projectile data.


June 17, 2020 - Cancelled in response to COVID19 guidance

Topic: The Presidency of Ulysses S Grant

Speaker: Dr. Paul Kahan

On December 5, 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant transmitted his eighth and final message to Congress. In reviewing his tenure as president, Grant proclaimed, “Mistakes have been made,” though he assured Congress, his administration’s “failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent.” Until recently, scholars have portrayed Grant as among the country’s worst chief executives. Though the scholarly consensus about Grant’s presidency is changing, the general public knows little, if anything, about his two terms, other than their outsized reputation for corruption. While scandals are undoubtedly part of the story, there is more to Grant’s presidency: Grant faced the Panic of 1873, the severest economic depression in U.S. history, defeated the powerful Senator Charles Sumner on the annexation of Cuba, and deftly avoided war with Spain while laying the groundwork for the “special relationship” between Great Britain and the United States. Grant’s efforts to ensure justice for African Americans and American Indians, however, were undercut by his own decisions and by the contradictory demands of the various constituencies that made up the Republican Party.

Dr. Paul Kahan is leading expert on 19th century U.S. history. He earned a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Temple University. Prior to that, Dr. Kahan earned an M.A. in Modern American History & Literature from Drew University and B.A.s in history and English (with minors in medieval/Renaissance studies and music) from Alfred University.

Dr. Kahan has published several books, including "Eastern State Penitentiary: A History," "Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Scandalous Secretary of War," "The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant: Preserving the Civil War's Legacy," and "The Bank War: Andrew Jackson, Nicholas Biddle, and the Fight for American Finance."



Civil War Round Table or Fredericksburg, Inc.
Civil War Round Table or Fredericksburg, Inc.
Civil War Round Table or Fredericksburg, Inc.
Civil War Round Table or Fredericksburg, Inc.

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