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President's Messages - 2006-2007 Season 
John C. Fazio
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright 2006, 2007, All rights reserved

Note: this page includes John Fazio's 'President's Messages' from all nine issues of The Charger published in the 2006-2007 Roundtable season.

  • September - Welcome back
  • October - Flim-flam
  • November - Lincoln scholars and non-scholars
  • December - Valverde, Texas and Glorieta Pass, New Mexico
  • January - Was the institution of slavery the cause of the Civil War?
  • February - Ohio in the Civil War
  • March - George Armstrong Custer
  • April - What if...?
  • May - The last casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg
  • June - The Lincoln - Baldwin conference

September, 2006

Welcome back everyone and a special welcome back to Dick Crews, our speaker at the first meeting. Dick's presentation on the 13th Tennessee (Union) promises to be very interesting. 

The oddity of Tennessee men fighting for the Union reminds us that there were a lot of oddities in the war. For example, it is not generally known that Ulysses S. Grant had an Italian half-brother with the same initials. This was Umberto Salvatore Grant, who taught home economics, with a specialty in strudel making, at Hiram College in Ohio. In September, 1863, he was invited to lecture at Earlham college in Richmond, Indiana. He came and so charmed the faculty, students and populace that the next day's Richmond Sentinel's headline read "U.S. GRANT TAKES RICHMOND." 

The Governor of Indiana, who was something of a dolt, read it and assumed the war was over. He immediately telegraphed Generals Rosecrans and Thomas, who, at the time, had the Army of the Cumberland in motion against General Bragg's Army of Tennessee and General Longstreet's detachment from the Army of Northern Virginia at Chickamauga. The governor ordered Rosecrans to send all the Indiana troops home on the No. 10 train out of Chattanooga, adding that he would meet them at the station in Indianapolis. Rosecrans, not wishing to add political problems to his military ones, complied. 

At Chickamauga, Longstreet noticed a huge gap in the Federal line where the Indiana troops had been. He sent thousands of graybacks through it and thereby won the battle. I asked Dick Crews if he had heard the story. He said he had not, but he doubted its veracity. Asked why, he said that as far as he knew the No. 10 train did not go to Indianapolis.

October, 2006

Let us welcome Katherine Thyer and Don Allen who will tell us something about the U.S. Sanitary Commission and who will also entertain us with Civil War music which, then as now, soothed the savage beasts. The latter, of course, have always played a major role in our lives. There is, for example, the noble horse, whose purpose is to do everything except to be eaten by us; the noble cow, pig and sheep, whose purpose is to do nothing except to be eaten by us; and the noble lion, tiger and kimono dragon, whose purpose is to eat us.

So enamored are we of animals, in fact, that we even invent some. There is, for example, the centaur, who has the head, trunk and arms of a man and the body and legs of a horse, and is said to be fearless in battle, after which it is given to riotous revelries, often with the satyr, who is part human, part horse and sometimes part goat, who is a notorious womanizer and who usually skips the battles and goes right to the revelry. 

Then there is the flim, which has the head of a lion and the body of a lawyer, with a beak like that of a woodpecker, which it uses to carve hearts in the bark of trees. This animal is not to be confused with its close relative, the flam, which has the head of a tiger and the body of a tiger, though not the same tiger. It too has a bird's beak, which it sometimes uses to carve arrows through the hearts carved by the flim, thus signaling the flim its readiness to mate. When the two work in concert like this, they are known as flim-flam artists. 

What has all this to do with the war? I'll tell you next month because I'm out of space.

A hat tip to Woody Allen for part of this.

November, 2006

The answer to the question posed at the conclusion of last month's message is: Nothing. Now let's get serious for a minute.

At a recent re-enactment at Hale Farm and Village, I ambled over to the Confederate encampment and stumbled upon a tall gray-clad fellow who was pontificating to two or three of his comrades about Lincoln. I overheard him say "Lincoln was the most evil President we ever had. He slept with the same man every night for the entire seven years he was in the White House. There was no reason to make war on the South, because every one of the Southern states had laws on their books providing for the abolition of slavery." (Precipitously or gradually, he didn't say.) I walked away, because I realized there was no point to talking to someone who did not even know Lincoln's term of office and therefore could hardly be expected to know anything about his sexual orientation or the contents of Southern statutory law.

Regrettably, idiocy of this kind is not limited to maverick re-enactors whose biases spill over in such an obvious and ugly way. There is, for example, the work of pseudo-scholars like Thomas J. DiLorenzo, the self-styled iconoclast who is now writing shock stuff about our 16th President. Who knows, he may take on Washington or Jesus next; there is, after all, money in iconoclasm. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, the only thing necessary for jerks to prevail is for lovers of truth to be silent. There has never been a shortage of the former, but fortunately there have been plenty of the latter to keep them on the fringes, e.g. Hay and Nicolay, Sandburg, Borritt, Goodwin, et al., and the vast majority of American historians, men and women who know that without Lincoln we would have had the Balkanization of the American Union and a continuation of human bondage. 

One of the lovers of truth is our own Mel Maurer, former President of the Roundtable and member of the Lincoln Forum, who, fittingly for our 50th Anniversary meeting, will talk to us about Lincoln's second finest hour, the Gettysburg Address. Why second? Because I agree with David Lloyd George, who said that Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address was the finest thing ever written with a pen.

December, 2006

The 50th Anniversary meeting of the Roundtable (Nov. 8) was very successful. We had 138 members and guests there, which might be a record. 

The paintings by Kunstler, Troiani and Gallon and the drill performed by the re-enactors from the 8th Ohio Infantry Division lent great color to the event. For the former, credit Laurie Allmenger and Nancy Eppelston, from BK Photo and Gallery in Troy, Ohio; for the latter, credit William Vodrey. 

The Chinese auction added $845 to our Treasury (credit mostly Mary Adams Fazio and Linda Lester). 

The period music was delightful (credit Joey Sands) and the period food, by common consent, was great (credit the Play House Club and particularly Tom Hlepas). 

Mel's address on "Lincoln at Gettysburg" was, as expected, superb (credit his family for tolerating him while he prepared). 

Let this meeting serve as an example of the kind of entertainment, camaraderie and intellectual stimulation that meetings of the Roundtable provide and an inducement, therefore, to attend more of them in the future and to get involved. I conclude by saying, in an appropriately pompous and stentorian tone, that if the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable lasts for a thousand years, men and women will still say "This was their finest hour."

Now we move a couple of thousand miles west of Gettysburg to Valverde, Texas (sometimes spelled Val Verde) and Glorieta Pass, New Mexico, two key battles in the often neglected and therefore poorly understood Trans-Mississippi theater of the war. (Speaking of often neglected, how about the Pacific Coast theater of the war? Now there's a subject for a future speaker.) Dan Zeiser will shed a lot of light at the December meeting not only on the two key battles (out of 75 recognized by the National Park Service), but also on the larger issues of who was trying to do what and for what ultimate purpose by fighting in Texas, New Mexico and beyond. We can hardly think of ourselves as knowledgeable about the war if we are ignorant of these campaigns, their larger purposes and their results. Most of us, I suspect, are so afflicted. We are indeed fortunate to have Dan to correct the deficiency.

January, 2007

This year the Dick Crews Annual Debate will be conducted in an inter-collegiate format, i.e. two persons on the affirmative and two on the negative. The resolution to be debated is: Resolved: That the Institution of Slavery Was the Cause of the Civil War. Some will think that this is a question hardly worth debating. Respectfully, I disagree. The cause or causes of the war have perplexed scholars and students for as long as the guns have been silent. Many theories have been advanced and each has its passionate devotees. The most often defended are:

  1. The economic theory, i.e. the war of the two capitalisms;

  2. The social theory, i.e. southern whites could not abide living side by side with blacks on terms of equality;

  3. The political theory, i.e. the failure of the two-party system in the South and Southern refusal to accept the results of a national election;

  4. The cultural theory, i.e. the regions had grown so far apart culturally that they could no longer exist as one nation;

  5. The states' rights theory, i.e. the relative power of the states and the Federal Government;

  6. The secession theory, i.e. the right of states to leave a compact once joined;

and, of course, combinations of some or all of the above.

The answers have relevance to our time because though African-Americans have made enormous strides since Emancipation, particularly since 1954, much remains to be done to, for and by them to achieve the praiseworthy goal of equality of opportunity and equality before the law, and also because the regions - North and South - are still not fully reconciled. Witness the use of pejoratives like "Yankee", "redneck", "cracker", etc; the uproar that occurred when a statue of Lincoln and one of his sons was erected in Richmond; the recent desecration of Union monuments at Gettysburg; and the hatred expressed by residents of both regions in the literature and on the Internet. The struggle continues, but by different means.

February, 2007

William Vodrey will speak to us at our February meeting about Ohio's governors during the war. I thought it appropriate, therefore, to touch upon a few other aspects of Ohio's role in the war.

Lincoln carried the state in both 1860 and 1864. In his Cabinet were Edwin M. Stanton and Salmon P. Chase, both Ohioans. Prominent in the Senate were Ohio Republicans John Sherman and Benjamin F. Wade. In the field were Generals Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Buell, Cox, Crook, Custer, Garfield, McDowell, McPherson, Rosecrans and McCook, all either born or residing in Ohio. Two Confederate generals -- Bushrod (now there's a name!) Johnson and Robert H. Hatton -- were also born in Ohio. Five Ohio soldiers -- Grant, Garfield, Hayes, Harrison and McKinley -- became President. The leader of the Copperheads (northern Democrats who opposed the war) was Ohioan Clement L. Vallandigham, whom Lincoln banished to the South after he was convicted of "declaring sympathies for the enemy."

There are two battle sites in the State, both having to do with Morgan's Raiders -- Buffington Island, near Marietta, and Salineville, near Youngstown.

Ohio contributed more men to the Union cause than any other state except New York and Pennsylvania -- about 320,000, including about 5,100 free blacks. They participated in almost every major campaign of the war. About 35,500 were casualties and about 7,000 gave the last full measure.

There were two major military posts in the State - Camp Chase in Columbus and Camp Dennison near Cincinnati. Camp Chase also served as a prison for Confederates, as did Johnson's Island near Sandusky.

Over 100 Ohio soldiers earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Major collections of war relics, artifacts and literature are in the Ohio Historical Society (Columbus); the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center and Library (Fremont); "Lawnfield," the home of James A. Garfield (Mentor); the Western Reserve Historical Society (Cleveland); and the Center for Archival Collections of Bowling Green State University.

The final accolade: It was President Lincoln's practice, before a battle, to inquire as to how many Ohio men would participate. Asked why he did so, he said that if there were many, he would have greater confidence of victory because "they can be relied upon in such an emergency."

March, 2007

I'm far from an expert on Custer and his last stand, but I have read one comprehensive work on the subject and two of his wife, Libby's, three books: Boots and Saddles (1885) and Following the Guidon (1890). Son of the Morning Star has been on my list for a long time.

I know that he and his Seventh Cavalry left from Fort Abraham Lincoln, in North Dakota, looking for Sioux and Northern Cheyenne, under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, who chose freedom and peril rather than reservations and submission. (Nothing new there!)

I know that Custer (nothing if not rash) split his force into three columns, one under Captain Bentene, one under Major Reno and the other led by himself. On orders from Custer, Bentene went South, traversed hill and dale, and accomplished nothing. Reno crossed the Little Bighorn intending to act as the eastern side of a pincer movement, with Custer representing the western side. He engaged the Indians (whose numbers were greater than he imagined), but was beaten back across the river with heavy loss.

Custer moved westerly parallel with the river and suddenly found himself and his men overwhelmed by Indians in numbers about which he had been warned, to no effect. He lost everyone and everything except a horse. The Indians were armed with repeating carbines they had obtained from John Jacob Astor, who used them to pay for furs which he sold in eastern markets at fantastic profit. Custer's men were armed with two-bullet rifles which frequently jammed.

By the end of the day (June 25, 1876), hundreds of women had been made widows, including beautiful Libby (Elizabeth Bacon Custer), from Monroe, Michigan, who loved him desperately and who lived into our own time (dying on April 6, 1933, at 92, in New York City, where she is buried). In one of her books, she described how, when they were riding together, George would often swoop in on her, snatch her off of her horse and carry her away on his horse. Monroe, which is at the extreme western end of Lake Erie between Toledo and Detroit, and whose power station chimneys can be seen on a clear day from the top of the Perry Monument at Put-in-Bay, has a museum devoted entirely to the briefly happy couple.

April, 2007

I read a book a few years ago titled "What If?" Its message, not surprisingly, is that history has frequently turned on the tiniest, strangest, most unexpected happenings imaginable, that humankind could, therefore, have gone in any one of an infinite number of directions and that there is nothing sacred or foreordained about the direction in which it went.

Example: Kearsarge's (John A. Winslow's) victory over Alabama (Raphael Semmes) was occasioned not so much by Winslow, his men, his ship or its guns, as by the malfunction of a percussion cap on a 110-pound shell from Alabama that would have sent Kearsarge to the bottom had it functioned. Further, Semmes, most of his officers and many of his crew owed their salvation not to their courage, their ship or its guns, but to 9-year old Catherine Hamilton, whose deciding vote in a family decision put her father's yacht, Deerhound, in position to rescue them when the battle was over.

A better example: Charles Francis Adams, American Minister to Great Britain, advised Secretary of State Seward that British intervention in our Civil War was imminent in the fall of 1862, an act that would have resulted in Southern independence. Her Majesty's government conditioned it on Lee's successful invasion of Maryland. Lee failed because his battle plans were lost by a subordinate and found by Union soldiers who delivered them to McClellan -- a one in a million chance. It is strange to think that the United States survived as one nation on such odds, but that is very likely the fact, and no less a scholar than James McPherson has said so.

It is easy to say that slavery would have been abolished or died out in the C.S.A. anyway, inasmuch as Britain, France and Russia had already abolished it. But maybe not. Its guarantee was written right into the Confederate Constitution. Southerners believed that their survival depended on it, which is how they justified the draconian step of secession. Strange. Like Marathon, Salamis, Tours, Lepanto, Blenheim, Trafalgar, Saratoga and Waterloo, a different result at any of which would have us speaking Farsi, Arabic, Turkish, French, Spanish or -- English, but with a different accent, and perhaps calling our God Allah instead of Yahweh, The Name, The Father, The Son or The Holy Spirit. The question is: Would it have really mattered?

May, 2007

A story crossed my desk that I believe bears repeating. The last casualty of the battle of Gettysburg died on March 14, 2004, at the age of 92. How, you ask, can that be? Well, here's the story.

The casualty was a fellow named Russell Mowry, of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, who received his injury in 1930. The Mowrys bought a piece of land in Bedford County in 1917. They bought it from a man named Frank Imler, who had bought it from a family named Tomlinson, who had previously lived in Gettysburg. 

When the Tomlinsons acquired the property they brought with them an artillery shell from the battlefield. It contained a ball as well as powder. They painted it red and used it as a doorstop. When they moved, they left the doorstop behind. When the Imlers moved, they also left the doorstop behind. 

So the Mowrys sort of inherited it. They knew what it was, but paid no attention to it for years. In 1930 one of them remarked that it was top-heavy with accumulated dirt, grime, dust, etc., and was no longer very effective for its assigned purpose. Russell Mowry, then 18, undertook to clean it while other members of the family were working in the fields. It exploded, of course, but apparently the powder was quite deteriorated because the explosion was low-level and did not kill young Russell, but merely blew off his left hand.  His father took Russell to a doctor, but the doctor could not save the hand. 

Russell continued to farm for the rest of his life despite the loss of the hand and despite the loss of three fingers on his other hand to a corn picker some years later. His death on March 14, 2004, was not due to the explosion of the shell, but it is nevertheless true that he is the last person to die (that we know of) who had sustained injury from ordnance that was used at the granddaddy of all Civil War battles.

I am looking forward to our Treasurer's talk on May 9. Letters from the combatants are a treasure-trove of information about the real war. One of the more fascinating aspects of it is the degree of fraternization that occurred between them and the lengths to which they went to accomplish it. Some of the stories are mind-boggling. This, may I suggest, would be a great topic for one of us to write or speak about, or both, at some future date.

June, 2007

I erred. (Again!) At the May meeting I said that I had originally thought that the Lincoln-Baldwin Conference referred to a pre-war conference, but that I now felt that it related to the Hampton Roads Conference held in the spring of 1865. 

I was right the first time: It relates to the April 4, 1861, meeting between Lincoln and Colonel John B. Baldwin, a delegate from the Secession Convention in Virginia, sent to the White House to try to persuade Lincoln to issue a written pledge not to use force to get the seceded states back in the Union, in exchange for Virginia's staying in the Union. The plot is thickened somewhat by the fact that Baldwin was strongly against secession by his state, though he supported her when she withdrew. 

It is thickened still further by the fact that Lincoln allegedly had already issued secret, and presumably irrevocable, orders to provision Fort Sumter and for that reason rejected Baldwin's offer. The implication is that Lincoln, convinced that the Rebellion could be suppressed only by force of arms, had decided to provoke the South into firing the first shot. 

The trouble with this theory, and others like it (Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor come to mind) is that it presumes that the enemy has no alternative and, further, that he is so stupid as to allow himself to be lured, like so many sailors before the Sirens, to certain destruction by an enemy who is not only stronger than he is, but apparently smarter too. Well, let's not prejudge. Let's hear what Jim Epperson has to say.

This is my final President's Message. Let me say that it has been a high honor and a distinct privilege to serve this Roundtable. Thank you very much for your cooperation and your contributions. I urge you to give the same in the same measure to our new President, Terry Koozer, and to the other officers and members of the Executive Committee, all of whom have already demonstrated their competence and their commitment to the welfare of this Roundtable.

The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable