What joy it was on the evening of Friday 20 August 2021 for 30 kindred spirits to assemble at De Vere Wokefield at last. The original 50 had been whittled down by events but like Gideon facing the Midianites, those who were left were equal to the task.
After the President’s joyous welcome, Charles Rees kicked off with his traditional icebreaker session. He explained that modern Civil War artists had done very well out of the Civil War and one reason was the enormous attention to detail present in their paintings. He challenged three ‘volunteers’ to present a painting and shake every detail out of it.
First was Marjorie Ward with Mort Kunsler’s Tender is the Heart, the christening of Lucy, daughter of AP Hill with Lee holding her. Well done Marjorie for being so comprehensive that questions were in short supply.
Next came Neil Morley who chose On to Richmond, the moment after the Wilderness, when Grant turned towards Richmond instead of retreat. His approach was different challenging us to explain the features in the painting, also by Mort Kunsler, which the painter had in turn challenged us with.
Thirdly was Greg Bayne with the picture commissioned by our RT from Keith Rocco, the Reversing of the Trenches at Cedar Creek. Greg also challenged us to fathom the chaos of the picture until we realised that chaos was the theme as soldiers desperately faced the new point of attack.
To finish a short film was shown from Bob Quigley, The Gettysburg Conspiracy. To reveal the nature of the film would spoil it for those who have not seen it but yet might. The universal response was that all previous considerations of the battle of Gettysburg would have to be be revised! Damned Prussians!
Saturday 21 August
The Other Irish of Gettysburg: beyond the Irish Brigade and 69th Pennsylvania - Damian Shiels
Damian is becoming a bit of a regular for our RT but always welcome and good value for his meticulous and original research and the craic! He noted the gigantic contribution of the Irish to the ACW, in a ratio of 9:1 to the Union. There were at least 180,000 and 20% of the navy were Irish. Conversely, he noted forlornly, there was little interest in Ireland. He had noted that although the interest focused on the Irish Brigade they were in fact everywhere and more East than West. He reviewed the careers of Irish officers familiar to us but then pointed to the devastating effects on Irish communities as their bread winners were lost. He decorated it with many personal stories as he always does to great effect. He told of the huge loss to the Fenians facing ‘Pickett’ on 3 July and revealed, new to us, the prisoners taken by the Confederates during that charge. In the end there were six medals of honour to Irishmen but none in Irish units. He balanced it amusingly with the 6th Massachusetts monument on Big Round Top who had claimed much but done little!
Monuments Rise in Memory - Catherine Bateson
Catherine started by taking us to July 1888 and the 25th anniversary held ‘not to wound but to sooth.’ By 1886 money was being given in New York for monuments. Father William Corby, a veteran himself, was dedicating new monuments. There was an outpouring of grief and emotions ran high. She was able to show the programme which had 16 items ending with a benediction. Item 15 was the singing of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, which
although written in 1814 did not become the National Anthem until 1931. The Union often produced songs about battles whereas the Confederacy rarely did (even though they won many of them)! It all added to the memory and 11,000 Civil War songs were produced between 1961 and 1865. This was a different and refreshing talk and well received.
The Alabama Experience - Erick Bush
Erick was as delighted to see us as we were to see him and this time had flown in from Naples. His brief was the Alabamians who fought and influenced the Civil War. Although some were wealthy landowners most were dirt poor farmers who began with the militia. He started with William Oates. Civil War personae always seem to be larger than life which may be why we like them so much and Oates in earlier life had killed a man and was put in jail. He later became a lawyer and somehow lost an arm but also became Governor of Alabama! Col Edward O’Neal was another who ended up as Governor of Alabama. One by Alabama! Col Edward O’Neal was another who ended up as Governor of Alabama. One by one the Alabamians came to life, Evander Laws, Rodes, Semmes and many more.
JEB Stuart and Inherent Military Probability - Charles Rees
Charles started with the statement by James McPherson that the battle of Gettysburg could not be understood without understanding the role of JEB Stuart. But there was a difference between what happened and what was meant to happen. Recently there had been attempts to limit his role to guarding Ewell’s flank and opposing Union cavalry despite the specific orders from Lee to get into the rear of the enemy. He also tried to move the centre of gravity of the battle to Cemetery Hill where he believed it belonged. He invoked the significance of Power’s Hill (forgotten because in private hands until 2011) and the Bonnaughton Road (underwater as Lake Heritage since 1966). Since Stuart had previously taken and used artillery at Hazell Grove only two months previously it was inherently possible that he would and could have done it again with the 26 pieces of artillery on and around Power’s Hill thus making a significant disruption to the Union positions. Custer stopped all that.
Gettysburg: The Opening Moves - Derek Young
Derek covered the first movement through Gettysburg on 26 June to the end of 1 July. Buford’s 1st Cavalry with their breech loading carbines behind stone walls had held off Harry Heth’s men for vital hours giving precious time to Oliver O Howard as he placed 45 pieces of artillery and the remnants of the 1st and 11th Corps on Cemetery Hill.
Sunday 22 August 2021
The Andersonville Irish Project - Damian Shiels
Damian revealed to us yet another of his vital primary source work on the Irish contribution to the ACW. There were 1.6 million Irish born in the US. 180,000 served during the war. New York was the centre of Irish service. 146 Irish born were Medal of Honour recipients. Andersonville operated for 14 months from February 1864. It was 16.5 acres with a 15ft fence extending to 26.5 acres in June 1864. By August it held 33,000 men with 100 dying each day. 13,000 died altogether. The Irishmen came from all over Ireland. He had identified 500 so far from 32 counties of Ireland. Less than half could be identified from their county. He had followed them from captivity to death. Several were prisoners taken by Armistead’s Brigade as they flooded back on 3 July . The camp, to our surprise, had a post box and it was possible to send letters out of the camp but they would be read and censored and therefore not criticise the conditions. He brought home to us the consequences the death of these poor soldiers would have had to those families.
1963 Centennial - Tim Galsworthy
Held on 1 July 1963 in searing heat, there was a pageant parade with reenactors and various look alikes. Cannon fire surprised the onlookers and there were 13 casualties including a hornet sting. Tim then discussed the celebrities present and how they tried to make political capital, particularly George Wallace who was greeted by rebel yells. People started to look back 100 years to navigate their positions. The ‘new birth of freedom’ had not been fulfilled. Southerners invoked the Civil War to pur sue their desire for segregation, but both sides of the political spectrum invoked the Civil War for their parties. Thus Tim carefully led us to his conclusion that the Republican party had become the party of the white South and the party of Lincoln became the party of RE Lee and Jeff Davis. This was a thought provoking contribution and provoked many good questions.
At the end the speakers were thanked by our President and the Conference closed. A flag, a replica of the one flown at Fort Sumter and also flown there in April 2011 was carefully and properly folded by Jim Carroll. It was a symbol, not that we were all Confederates, but of the beginning of a war, without which none of us would have been together. For Damian Shiels, there was one more bonus. As he waited at Heathrow he was able to see Limerick, his side, beat Cork in the All-Ireland Hurling final. In the first half they were awesome!
L to R: Mike Somerville, Tim Galsworthy, Catherine Bateson & Damian Shiels