Maurer is a past president of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
and served for many years as its Historian. The address
below was delivered at the November 9, 2016 meeting of the
Roundtable commemorating the 60th anniversary of the club's
Three score years ago this month -
our founders brought forth in Cleveland a new Civil War Roundtable
dedicated to the “belief that the American Civil War is the defining
event in U.S. history.”
Now we are engaged in a great
celebration of its 60th anniversary. Our beloved CCWRT has enhanced
the history of America’s Civil War over these years through its
members’ and guests’ research, articles, talks, debates,
discussions, preservation funding, and books.
There is something special about
gatherings of people with shared interests in any subject or
endeavor - and there is no subject with more aspects and importance
– with its people, politics, battles, romance, great drama and some
humor all coming together - while in the process of tearing our
nation apart - in the greatest drama in our country’s history.
Other wars have been fought by our
country but not against each other – brother against brother - and
not for the very future and soul of a country becoming a nation.
No wonder we have been learning its
details, reviewing, discussing and debating them for 60 years - and
still have only touched the surface of all there is to know. As with
this defining struggle, the history of our Roundtable is replete
with its people, politics, facts, figures and even some
You have received a brief summary
of our history so expertly prepared by Dale Thomas, now retired
long-time Roundtable historian. My thanks to Dale for his great
service and to Dave for his help too with this talk.
The summary provides a structure
for my brief history of the Roundtable tonight. Dale’s full history
in great depth is available on our award winning website.
Our history began when a lady, one of a small group having dinner
asked a man named John Cullen if he was interested in the Civil War.
She then asked if there was a Civil War Roundtable in Cleveland.
That simple casual exchange between
that lady and John Cullen of Shaker Heights was the conception of
our club but not yet its birth. John was the father of what
followed. Inspired by the lady’s advice, John contacted a man in
Milwaukee. That city’s Roundtable was founded as the second
Roundtable in the country. The Chicago Roundtable was first.
This man, Norman Fitzgerald, had
John contact a man in Rocky River named Kenneth Grant, who was a
member of the Chicago Roundtable. Cullen and Grant began their
founding work in earnest on October 12, 1956 with a letter to others
with interest in the Civil War.
Here are just a few words form this
founding document: “For some time we have talked about a
Cleveland Civil War Roundtable…Those of us who enjoy a discussion of
the phases of the ‘War between the States” are of the belief that
such an organization would receive strong support from “Experts” in
this area… That a Roundtable will be established is definite, it’s
up to you and others to decide the pattern to be followed.”
You have no doubt noted that while
this letter seeks to found a Civil War Roundtable it uses the term:
“War between the States.” Maybe we should be called the War between
the States Roundtable?
Kenneth Grant despite his name was
a “crusty conservative Englishman who believed that the South’s loss
was a tragedy of history.” Another founder, George Farr Jr., “was a
flaming liberal who would have hung Robert E. Lee as a traitor.”
John Cullen, described as a
“Charming fellow,” kept the peace between these men. Also involved
early was Charles Clarke. If memory serves, he and his wife were
here for our 50th celebration.
By the way, the initiating letter
spelled roundtable as one word – and so it’s been ever since –
despite all warnings of Spell Check to change. May it ever be so.
John’s letter brought 10 people to a dinner on November 20, 1956
downtown at a popular restaurant - the Hickory Grill. Their names
are in the summary. Out of this meeting came assignments to write
bylaws and a constitution.
The new Roundtable was organized
following the pattern set by Chicago’s Roundtable which was also
used for other Roundtables then in existence. As such it was simply
a men’s club restricted to men only.
That was not unusual at that time -
any more than exclusive women’s clubs then. Not unusual, but ironic
for sure since it was a woman who initiated the idea of a Roundtable
to John Cullen. Women were always welcome as guests and for years
the last meeting of the club year was “Ladies Night.”
Times change of course and over the
years, attempts were made to include women as members. This finally
happened – with some controversy in June 1997 – as Dick Crews and
president, Dan Zeiser, pushed the issue and won women the right of
While no cannons were fired a brief
civil war did erupt among the membership. It ended with the
secession of some who left to form their own group.
Our first woman member was Lou
Braman, a history teacher. It took a while to have our first woman
president – partly because we did not have many women members and
partly because the women we had were not interested in working
towards the job. (And we still need more women as debaters.)
Lisa Kempfer who became our first
woman president in 2010. Jean is now president and Ellen Connally is
in line for it.
After the inaugural November
meeting, the next meeting of the new Roundtable was in January 1957
at Kiefer’s Restaurant in Ohio City. George Farr Jr. gave the first
talk entitled: “Civil Law in Southern Courts.” Farr became president
in April 1958 with the death of Kenneth Grant - and was reelected
the following year.
The club was soon a success and
some concerns were raised about having too many members. One member
even quit because of this. It seems the highest number of members
was 135 in 2001. Having Shelby Foote as a speaker that year brought
attention and new interest to us - when William Vodrey was
The first talk by a non-member was
by the noted Bruce Catton in 1957. His talk was entitled: “Civil War
Influence on Social and Political Outlook.” Mr. Catton was the first
of a great roster of well-known and distinguished historians to
address our Roundtable over the years.
They include: General Ulysses S.
Grant III, the grandson of U.S. Grant, Ed Bearss – a number of times
since 1962, Dr. Richard D. Mudd, grandson of the infamous Doctor
Mudd , Stephen Ambrose, Bud Robertson, Mark Neely, Shelby Foote,
Gabor Borritt, President Garfield’s grandson, Craig Symonds, John
Marszelak and Harold Holzer. Abraham Lincoln also addressed the club
once. (Well he looked a bit like Lincoln.)
Our treatment of our speakers –
famous or not - has given us a national reputation for hospitality
and knowledge. I’ve heard from speakers I’ve hosted that they’ve
never been treated better than here. And then, from others in
various symposiums etc. how they’ve heard how well we treat our
Back now to Club FIRSTs: the first
field trip was in 1957 to Antietam, Harper’s Ferry and Winchester.
The first woman speaker was Mrs. S. Dannett on January 17, 1961. Her
topic was: “Union Women under the Guns.”
Not that it matters but I am the
first member named Melvin. And the first president named Maynard
served in 2003.
The club also had a movie night
back then. The first movie night was April 15, 1958. The movie was:
“Robert E. Lee and the True Story of the Civil War.” Given the
southern leanings at that time, I’m surprised it wasn’t “Birth of a
Nation.” I hope now I haven’t encouraged anyone here to schedule
that Robert E. Lee movie.
Dale nicely summarized the topics
of all the talks given in the first 40 years as follows:
personalities - 109, battles, tactics and strategies – 72, political
and social – 34, Ohio and the Civil War – 19, logistics – 12, and
reconstruction – 4.
While the membership was somewhat
weighted with doctors and lawyers in the early days – thank God
those days are gone (joke) – we now have a mix of businessmen and
professionals, retirees, educators and yes those pesky doctors and
lawyers are still gratefully still with us. We have not had
many meeting places over all the years. The club moved to the Hermit
Club in the 1960s. When service there became intolerable in 2000, we
moved to the Playhouse Club and when it closed in 2009, we came here
to this grand old building filled with its echoes of over 90 years
of Cleveland history.
We can record for history the
names, dates, events, facts and figures of clubs such as ours far
better than we can ever capture the feeling involved of their many
members. Their joy of learning, the pleasure of hearing good
speakers, the breaking of bread with special friends, the sharing of
what we know, the agreements and disagreements of opinions often
passionate but always respectful all of which forms the spirit of
I close as I began, our Cleveland
Civil War Roundtable founded 60 proud years ago has always been of
the people, by the people and for the people – very special people.
Here’s to many, many more years. I love you guys. Thank you!