Williamsburg Civil War Roundtable

The purpose of this organization shall be to promote discussion and study of the Civil War and to further stimulate interest in all aspects and phases of the Civil War period.

Past Speakers

January 2018 - On Tuesday, January 23, 2018, Chris Bryce presented Grant’s crossing of the James River and the defense of Petersburg June- July 1864.

On June 12, 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant, secretly withdrew the Army of the Potomac from its position's in front of Cold Harbor. From there he and over 100,000 men of the army would embark on one of the more impressive turning movements of the war. Two days later after some hard marching and superb logistical work, the Federals began crossing the James River. Once across the river Grant set his sights on the vital transportation hub of Petersburg. Defended by roughly 4,600 Confederate troops under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard, could Petersburg hold out until reinforcements arrived from General Robert E. Lee who was in the dark about the whereabouts of Grant's army?

For three days, June 15-18 Grant’s forces pressed the Confederate defenders to the point of breaking, but the southern troops held on and inflicted staggering losses upon the Union attackers with one regiment suffering the highest regimental single battle loss of the entire war.   By the end of June with an infusion of Lee’s forces from Richmond the battle lines around Petersburg began to stabilize.

In an effort to break the Confederate line Union troops from Pennsylvania devised a plan to tunnel underneath the Petersburg defenses and pack the tunnel with explosives to rupture Lee’s line and enter Petersburg.  Would this plan lead to the capture of Petersburg in July 1864 or would it be another example of “Wasted Valor” that had been witnessed in front of Petersburg before?

Chris Bryce, is the Assistant to the Superintendent/Public Affairs, Petersburg National Battlefield   Chris Bryce began his National Park Service Career in 1987 as a seasonal park ranger at Manassas National Battlefield Park. He became a permanent employee in 1988 as an interpretive park ranger at Independence National Historical Park. Chris holds a bachelor’s degree in History with a concentration in 18th and 19th American military history and 20th century European military history from East Tennessee State University.  He resides with his family in Williamsburg, VA

February 2018 - On Tuesday, February 27, 2018 – Ralph Peters will present "Civil War Leadership and its Challenges”. Ralph will discuss well-known commanders and others half-forgotten, how their characters and backgrounds shaped their successes and failures, and how the dynamic times in which they lived--an age of technical and political revolutions--made a war that began under the influence of Napoleon and Frederick the Great end as the first truly modern war, with the first modern staffs; the first industrial war machine; and a new age of mass slaughter.

Ralph Peters is a writer, strategist, media commentator and retired military officer. He is the author of 33 books and over 1,000 columns, articles, essays and reviews. Uniformed service, personal interests and research have taken him to more than 70 countries and six continents. He served in the U.S. Army for 22 years, first as an enlisted man, then as an officer, retiring shortly after his promotion to lieutenant-colonel to write.

A novelist, under his own name and as Owen Parry, he has written a number of bestsellers with international settings, as well as critically praised historical novels about the Civil War. Ralph’s commentaries, essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Post, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Herald, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Newsweek, Harpers, The Weekly Standard, National Review, The Washington Monthly, Wired, Parameters, Armed Forces Journal, Joint Force Quarterly, Strategic Review, Armchair General, Military Review and a range of other domestic and foreign publications.

March 2018 - On Tuesday, March 27, 2018 Peggy Vogtsberger presented “Major General Patrick Cleburne”. Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, C.S.A. was born in County Cork, Ireland, the son of a country doctor, on March 16, 1828.  He trained to be a druggist, but his inability to pass the Latin part of his examinations led him to join the British Army as a private.  In 1849, he paid to get out of his enlistment and emigrated to the United States.

Patrick first settled in Cincinnati, but soon learned of a job opportunity as a druggist in the store of Dr. Charles Nash and Dr. Hector Grant in Helena, Arkansas. Cleburne accepted the position and moved to Helena in 1850. His ambition led him to become part owner of the store. Eventually, he quit to study law and was an attorney when the war broke out in 1861. He also dabbled into local politics. Cleburne's political views shifted. He had been a conservative Whig in 1850, but by 1861 he was an ardent States Rights Democrat.

Miss Vogtsberger will answered some questions: Why did Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and a non-slaveowner, become so enamoured of the Southern cause? What did his proposal about slavery really say? She will go into some detail into the language of the proposal. Did he expect the fierce opposition to his proposal? Did his advocacy of the proposal cost him promotion to higher rank, as many believe? Her talk will only speak of the highlights of his military career.

Miss Vogtsberger was former president and editor of the Williamsburg CWRT. She founded the John Pelham Historical Association in 1982, and a few years ago she started a Facebook group, The Society of the Army of the Cumberland. In 1995 she edited the letters of Colonel Richard H. Dulany of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, published as The Dulanys of Welbourne: A Family in Mosby's Confederacy. Her interest in General Cleburne began decades ago, when she read the book, Cleburne and His Command, written by Cleburne's A.A.G., Captain Irving A. Buck.

April 2018 -On Tuesday April 24th,
Eric Wittenberg presented “The Devil’s to Pay” - John Buford at Gettysburg, is based upon the research that he conducted in conjunction with the publishing of his book by the same title. Eric will outline the role that Brig. General John Buford and his First Cavalry Division troops played up to and through the Battle of Gettysburg. His presentation will focus upon the actions of Buford and his horse soldiers on the first day of the battle when they mounted a stiff resistance to impede the progress of the advance of overwhelming numbers of Confederate infantry until the arrival of the Union First Corps and Eleventh Corps units. Eric will also discuss the actions that Buford’s troopers undertook to shepherd and save the shattered remnants of those two Union infantry corps at the end of the first day of the battle.

Eric J. Wittenberg is a native of Southeastern Pennsylvania. He is an award-winning Civil War historian whose primary focus has been cavalry operations in the Eastern Theater and on the Gettysburg Campaign. He is the author of 21 published books on the Civil War and dozens of magazine articles. He has won the Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award, the Gettysburg Civil War Roundtable’s Book Award, and the United States Army Heritage Foundation’s Distinguished Writing Award. He is deeply involved in battlefield preservation work, and often works with the Civil War Trust on preservation efforts. He is a former president and program chairman of the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable, and served on the Governor of Ohio’s Commission on the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. He runs a popular blog, Rantings of a Civil War Historian, and often travels the country lecturing on the Civil War and leading tours. He is an attorney in private practice, where he manages his firm’s litigation practice. He, his wife Susan, and their four golden retrievers live in Columbus, Ohio.

May 2018 - On Tuesday, May 22, 2018, Dr. Bud Robertson presented “The Four-Legged Soldiers”. The Civil War could not have occurred without horses. They were the primary means of transportation for soldiers as well as all the equipment needed to wage battle.  More of these animals would die than did humans in the nation-making struggle.  At the same time, thousands of troops found solace in a wide variety of animals who served as regimental mascots. They played a vital role in sustaining morale in a time of suffering and loneliness.  Such "four-legged soldiers" have a little-known but valuable story to tell.

One of the most distinguished names in Civil War history, Dr. Robertson served as Executive Director of the U. S. Civil War Centennial Commission in the 1960’s and worked with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He then taught 44 years at Virginia Tech, where his upper division course on the Civil War era attracted 300 or more students per semester and made it the largest class of its kind in the nation. He received every teaching award given by Virginia Tech.  At his retirement in 2011, the University named him Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History.

The Danville Virginia native is the author or editor of more than 40 books, including biographies of Generals Robert E. Lee and A. P. Hill, several works on the common soldiers, and three studies written for young readers. His massive biography of General “Stonewall” Jackson won eight national awards and was used as the basis for the Ted Turner/Warner Brothers mega-movie, “Gods and Generals”. Dr. Robertson was the chief historical consultant for the film.

September 2018 - On Tuesday, September 23, 2018, John Quarstein presented “Wake-Up Call – The Battle of Big Bethel”. Noted as the first land battle of the Civil War, Big Bethel was a mere skirmish soon overlooked by bloodier battles that would follow. Nevertheless, Big Bethel was a baptism of fire for a nation newly involved in civil war. The soldiers that served at Bethel would never forget the rude awakening of shells bursting among the smartly clad Federal Zouaves or how Henry Lawson Wyatt's body of the 1st North Carolina laid lifeless on the field. They all knew that the war would not just be filled with parades, and it would not be over by Christmas. Instead, the soldiers realized that it would be a bloody desperate affair. The Union defeat at Big Bethel would establish the battle lines in Hampton Roads for the next 10 months awaiting the grand events of Spring 1862.

John V. Quarstein is an award-winning historian, preservationist, and author. He is director emeritus of the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Virginia.

October 2018 - On Tuesday October 23rd, Dr. E. C. (Curt) Fields, Jr. as General Grant presented his overview of the Battle of Shiloh.
It has long and loudly been asserted that Grant (and Sherman) was surprised by the Confederate attack at Pittsburg Landing.  He has been severely criticized about not having built breastworks or dug trenches.  He was held responsible by the Northern press for the appalling loss of life at Pittsburg landing (23,746 killed/wounded), and his dismissal was demanded even unto the President in the Executive Mansion; the President being urged to sack Grant and save himself politically.
Was Grant surprised?  Was it a failure of Leadership not to build or dig breastworks/trenches?  Was he responsible for the staggering loss of life?
Curt Fields has been an avid and lifelong student of the American Civil War.  His interest in portraying General Ulysses S. Grant was driven by that study and his deep respect and admiration for General Grant.  His presentations are in first person, quoting from General Grant’s Memoirs; articles and letters the General wrote, statements he made in interviews or wrote himself, and first-person accounts of people who knew the General or were with him and witnessed him during events. Dr. Fields holds a Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Education from the University of Memphis. He later earned a Master’s degree in Secondary Education and Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Curriculum from Michigan State University.

November 2018 - On November 27, 2018, Mr. J. Michael Moore presented “The Civil War Comes to the Lower Peninsula”.   The Virginia Peninsula, situated between the James and York rivers, was recognized as strategically important by the Confederate and Union leaders in the first few months of the Civil War.  Located on the tip of the Peninsula at Old Point Comfort, Fort Monroe was the only Federal installation remaining in the Upper South and provided a base for riverine and amphibious operations. Moreover, the Confederate capital at Richmond was only eighty miles up the Virginia Peninsula. Richmond was a strategic target not just for political reasons but was the Confederacy’s industrial center with the South’s largest iron manufacturing firms, two shipyards, and five railroads.  Blocking any Union advance up the Peninsula, Confederate Major General John Bankhead Magruder commanded over 10,000 troops behind three lines of defenses with water batteries on the James and York rivers.  In April 1862, Union Major General George B. McClellan launched the Peninsula Campaign from Fort Monroe and Newport News Point with the ultimate goal of capturing Richmond and ending Civil War.

J. Michael Moore is employed by the City of Newport News as the curator for Lee Hall Mansion and Endview Plantation.  Mr. Moore received a Bachelor of Arts in history from Christopher Newport University and a master of arts in history from Old Dominion University.  During his tenure with the City, Moore has curated exhibits at several local historic sites and led battlefield tours in Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.  Moreover, he is a popular lecturer for CNU’s LifeLong Learning Society.  Moore has also co-authored two books – The Peninsula Campaign of 1862: A Military Analysis in 2005 and Yorktown’s Civil War Siege: Drums Along the Warwick in 2012.  In addition, Michael has served as the editor and photographic editor for twelve books and written articles for Virginia Cavalcade, North & South, Military Collector & Historian, and Mulberry Island Notes. 


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