Friday, April 18, 2008

Symposium Books

After our successful symposium we did end up with some extra books. Some titles we did a good job of guessing how many we'd need and others we did not do as good a job. We will be selling our excess titles here. Send me an email and I will respond with total shipping costs and I can send you a paypal invoice, or you can send a check.

Echoes of Thunder: A Guide to the Seven Days Battles by Matt Spruill. Signed by the author. I can have this one personalized too if you'd like. Roundtable price $23, retail $24.95
Winter Lightning: A guide to the Battle of Stones River by Matt Spruill. Signed by the author. I can have this one personalized too if you'd like. Roundtable price $23, retail $24.95
Stones River: Bloody Winter in Tennessee by James Lee McDonough. Signed by the author. Roundtable price $21, retail $23.95
War In Kentucky: From Shiloh to Perryville by James Lee McDonough. Signed by the author. Roundtable price $15, retail $17.95
A Southern Boy in Blue: The Memoir of Marcus Woodcock, 9th Kentucky Infantry (USA) by Kenneth Noe. Signed by the author. Roundtable price $15, retail $18
Doctor Quintard, Chaplain C.S.A. and Second Bishop of Tennessee: The Memoir and Civil War Diary of Charles Todd Quintard by Sam Davis Elliott. Signed by the author. Roundtable price $35, retail $42.95
Soldier of Tennessee: General Alexander P. Stewart and the Civil War in the West by Sam Davis Elliott. Signed by the author. Roundtable price $23, retail $22.95
Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg by Timothy B. Smith. Signed by the author. Roundtable price $18, retail $22.95
We also ordered in a few other titles. None of these are signed.
Civil War Tennessee: Battles and Leaders by Thomas Lawrence Connelly. Roundtable price $6, retail $7
Tennessee's Forgotten Warriors: Frank Cheatham and His Confederate Division by Christopher Losson. Roundtable price $24, retail $29
Memoirs of the Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion by Robert J. Trout. Roundtable price $35, retail $45
Chimborazo: The Confederacy's Largest Hospital by Carol C. Green. Roundtable price $18, retail $22.95

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sam Davis Elliott

Our final speaker was Sam Davis Elliott talking about General Alexander P. Stewart, about whom he has written a fine biography. I'll admit I have not read the biography, but I have a copy and will one day soon read it.

Stewart is one of those commanders who have largely been forgotten. This is a bit strange in that he was one of the few a corps commanders in the Army of Tennessee. There are artillery captains in the Army of Northern Virginia that have had more written about them.

One thing I did know about Stewart is that he largely escaped most of the bickering in the Army of Tennessee. While much of the high command was dividing into pro or anti Bragg factions Stewart somehow managed to walk a thin line between both groups.

Sam mentioned that he got the bug to write about Stewart after passing his statue on the courthouse grounds in Chattanooga. Somehow I did not know about this statue, and I've been to Chattanooga a number of times. Next time I'm there I'll make a point of visiting the courthouse to see the statue.

The last time I was in Chattanooga I happened to meet Sam. I had gone back there for a week of wandering and on my last day there I participated in a ranger led hike of the Wauhatchie. As we gathered in the parking lot we introduced ourselves to each other and we finally met in person after exchanging emails over the various message boards we both belong to. The idea of the symposium was in my mind at that time, I think at that point we were still discussing if we though we could pull it off. As we walked up Tyndale Hill the ranger asked if we wanted to do some bushwhacking to the very top (the trail was not officially open yet). I think Sam was the first to speak and his answer was something along the lines of "how else would we spend our time, lets go up there, be among the first to see it." That sort of bushwhacking mentality is the same as our study groups' have and I knew right then that he was one of us. Once we started inviting people to the symposium he was one of the first ones we asked, he cemented it that day on Tyndale Hill. I knew if he had that sort of enthusiasm about bushwhacking to see entrenchments he could easily project that enthusiasm into a talk. And I was right, I really enjoyed the talk and mentally moved the Stewart book to the top of my to-read-list.

Matt Spruill

Our fourth speaker was fellow round table member Matt Spruill. Even though he's a member he was no slouch when it came to presentations. I've always enjoyed discussing the war with Matt because he offers a perspective from a modern military officer. Also Matt does a good job of giving a balanced view of things. He will not blast a general's decisions without first exploring the position that general was in; what did he know of the situation, what were the options available to him? Then if a general still made a poor decision he will not hold back with his opinion, but he makes you think critically of what options really did face the general in the heat of the moment. The decision might seem bad at first but when you look at all the sides of the issue often times you come away with a greater appreciation of what the general faced and what he finally decided to do. This is what Matt has added to my thinking of the war.

During the symposium Matt presented the battle of Stones River, subject of his most recent battle field guide (and I've reviewed it here previously). Matt had two statements that I thought were interesting and needed more contemplation.

The first was that "successful commanders need to make judgement decisions and take acceptable risks." This goes along with things I've been taught by Matt before but I've never heard him phrase it quite that way. In some ways it seems so simple, the good generals make decisions after weighing the different options, figure out what risks they are willing to take and choose accordingly.

The Stones River statement Matt offered was that Bragg should have weighted his main attack on the left by adding Breckinridge's force behind Cleburne. Bragg would have been taking a gamble that Rosecrans would not attack his weakened right wing but it would have increased the odds of a successful attack by the left wing. We could all debate whether doing so would have been an acceptable risk. I believe that it would be an acceptable risk because if the attack had succeeded the results might have been extraordinary. Rosecrans might have been completely surrounded and forced to fight for his survival, and Bragg might have dealt the major blow that the Confederacy needed in the West to revive its sinking fortunes. As it happened Bragg did not manage the battle well enough to provide a major victory and ended up with a tactical draw and a strategic defeat.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Kenneth Noe

Kenneth Noe provided one of the better jokes of the event. In leading off his talk he said that he was from Virginia and there they “know that the war was fought in Virginia, with a few days in Maryland and one bad week in Pennsylvania.” Noe is also a Cleveland Browns fan and said his heart broke when he drove past Mile High Stadium where his Browns lost two AFC Championship games (its now Invesco Field but the new stadium sits next to where the old one was).

But on a serious note Ken talked about the Perryville campaign. I thought he did a very good job of laying it all out. He got a little into the blow-by-blow stuff but not so much that your head is swimming with details. I especially liked how he detailed the various options available to Bragg at the beginning of the campaign and how the boldest option somehow became the best option. One of his gems of insight was when he said that it impossible to understand the Civil War if you separate the military, political and social elements. That they are all connected, in fact these separate forces are what ends up pushing Bragg to select the option he does select (instead of swinging from Tupelo to Chattanooga and then north into Kentucky, he could have struck Buell between Corinth and Chattanooga or he could have assaulted Corinth directly).

Ken also talked a bit about how weather played such a huge role in this campaign, as well as the other campaigns of 1862 in the West. He said that if he was doing the book now he’d try to explain the toll of drinking very little water (and then having substandard water when it was available) had on the soldiers and animals of both armies.

I’ve read his book, and have tramped those fields. As a sign of how well his talk was received by the rest of the audience, as soon as his talk was over his book sold out from our book room. I was glad to hear about that as I knew it meant we made a good choice in selecting him as a speaker.

A theme that kept popping up during the day was memory, and Perryville is no exception to the memory debate. In Perryville’s case its a matter of how a pretty major battle somehow falls out of the public memory. Perryville started to disappear from the newspapers right away as other events quickly filled the paper, things like the battles of Iuka and Corinth, the fall Congressional elections and the debate of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Then after the war it remained a lesser battle. But the locals have worked hard to protect it. They have done their best to prevent it from being changed, and last week they actually did so again by rejecting a request from a developer to build many homes.

Timothy Smith

The second speaker of the day was Tim Smith. Not to slight any of our other fine speakers but this was the presenter I was most anxious to see. Tim is a former Shiloh ranger who I’ve bumped into a few times before at the park, I’ve enjoyed all of his books and he was talking about my favorite battle to study. He did not disappoint.

Basically Tim talked about the “battle after the battle,” the historiography of Shiloh. This is the sort of thing I love and I was worried that others might find it not as interesting. But the few people I’ve talked to about this so far liked it, it was not the normal for them. They adapted well to a Shiloh talk that was not about the movements of regiments and batteries.

He laid out that there are four main schools of Shiloh historiography. The first is the veterans school and it started as soon as men had a chance to sit down and talk about what happened that day. This school lasted into the 1890s when the number of veterans dwindled.

The second school began with the formation of the park and the appointment of David W. Reed as the first historian. This is when the first mentions of the Hornets’ Nest emerge at all and it will soon grow to legendary status as, perhaps, the most important part of the battle. Reed’s regiment fought in the Hornets’ Nest which would explain why Reed put more emphasis on this than any previous author. This school dominates current thinking and Tim brought up the story that at the Visitor’s Center are two large maps (made by Reed) that visitors can touch and the spots that Reed emphasized have been touched so often that they have been rubbed off the map. Next time I’m there I’ll be sure to check this out. The spots are Shiloh Church, Pittsburg Landing, the Hornets’ Nest and the Sunken Road.

The third school Tim called the Johnston/Sword school. To this school the death of Johnston was the most important event of the battle. Wiley Sword’s book came out in the 1970s and he recently revised edition spends a great deal of time trying to determine conclusively where Johnston was killed. Long story short, Sword believes its much farther north than where its marked at the park. I’m not convinced and I got the impression that very few others agree with Sword.

The final school would be revisionist. This first appeared in the 1960s with Cunningham’s dissertation but it remained largely unread until recently (in an edited version by Tim and Gary Joiner). The first published book in this school would be Larry Daniel’s. This school is still developing but it is reevaluating the other schools and putting more emphasis on events in other locations, like what Sherman and McClernand accomplished on the Union right.

If I had to guess (and I should have just asked the question but didn’t think of it then) I would say that Tim is of the revisionist school. I think he’s willing to accept parts of Reed and Johnston’s school but feels that their emphasis is not the whole story.

My apologies that our roundtable's president's head sticks into the photo. I wanted to move into the aisle to take pictures, but didn't want to disrupt the presentation at all.

James Lee McDonough

James Lee McDonough started our day off with an overview of the Western Theater. He started it with all sorts of data about the two sides and I was starting to wonder where he was going with it. One thing he said which I had never heard (or don’t remember it) is that Missouri had the second highest white population in 1860 among slave states, only trailing Virginia and if you subtracted West Virginia it was first. Kentucky was third. His point being that if those two slaves states could have been firmly in the Confederacy it would have been a huge boon in manpower alone. He also talked about some of the natural resources these two states would have been able to contribute too.

Something else I had never thought about is that the Confederacy was roughly twice the size of the colonies of 1776. One of the reasons the British lost that war was because fighting on that scale is difficult, not only in space but everything that goes along with it (logistics being the major consideration). Of course since then numerous railroads had been built and the river system in the West favored the Union. But even so there was some belief that the size of the project might be enough to prevent the Union from winning.

He also went into Kentucky’s geographic importance. I’ve heard this before, but to paraphrase a Confederate Kentucky makes invasion of the West more difficult because the Ohio River forms a natural defensive line and would prevent the Union from exploiting the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers (at least until they breached the forts that would likely be built at the confluence of each of those with the Ohio.

He also made two statements I found interesting discussion fodder. One is that Shiloh was a “narrow tactical victory with major strategic importance.” I don’t have a problem with that statement at all, I think it fits, but I can see that others might not agree. The other is, “If the Kentucky line [the reality line thru Bowling Green not the imagined line on the Ohio] was intact at the time of Antietam would that battle have as much importance, would Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation?” His point being that nothing about Antietam makes it vastly important than that the Emancipation Proclamation follows. I’m not so sure about this one. I can understand that the situation would then basically be a small Union foothold throughout all theaters but Antietam would still have significance as an invasion turned back. I don’t know if that would be enough of an event for Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, but since he probably still had it in a desk drawer waiting for his moment me might have seized on this event as the big moment again.

Symposium was a Success!!

The symposium went very well, better than I expected. Everything ran very smoothly, we didn’t seem to have the hiccups one would expect from it being our first event. We learned a few things on how to run the day better next time, mostly minor things. Like we didn’t think of it until halfway through the first speaker but having a pitcher of water handy would be very useful. Also next time I think we should go with a wireless mic, one speaker wanted to wander more and all of them occasionally leaned back a bit from the mic so it likely was not as loud at the back of the hall as it should have been. We didn’t have a panel discussion and I think that is something we need to incorporate into our next event. We also did very well with book sales and could have probably ordered more. But we had very little to base our order on, we just made a guess and we were a little low, but that’s better than having too much stock.

The presenters themselves were fantastic. We had selected authors we thought would be good but we truthfully had no idea how well it would turn out. Just because a guy writes a good book does not mean he can speak in front of a crowd. But our guys were a good batch, I’ll post a bit more about each one this week as they all brought up some insights and questions I’d like to share and comment on.

They were also highly complimentary of what we had put together. I’m not sure if they were just being nice but I’d like to believe they were being honest. Down the road we’ll send out surveys to speakers and attendees to gauge reactions to our event, I think then we’ll have a complete picture.

The hall was pretty good sized, I took this first thing in the morning. Eventually we'd fill about half the place. The Community College of Aurora videotaped the first half of the day for their community cable access station, hopefully we'll get a copy of that. I'd love to share it on here or youtube but we'll see if that's possible.
Here is our book room. We had books for all of our presenters. I'd like to thank the University of Tennessee Press, Kentucky University Presss and Savas-Beatie for helping us out with this. The University of Tennessee Press did the most for us as they also sent catalogs, bags, a table cloth, and other promotional materials. We've dealt with them from the very beginning on this, back when it was just a kernel of an idea.

One of our roundtable members, Bob Moulder, set up a display showing a fraction of his impressive collection. My favorite aspect of Bob's collection is that there is a personal story behind each item. He just doesn't have a certain model of sword, he knows who carried it in the war and what happened to him, that's impressive. That's a Bob behind the table, but not Bob Moulder, its his friend and day's assistant Bob Huddleston.