The First Defenders meet at 6:30 PM on the second Tuesday of each month from September through May. Meetings include dinner and a speaker who may be a guest or a member. Meetings are currently held at The Inn at Reading. A book raffle is held each month with all proceeds donated to battlefield preservation. Guests and new members are welcome. Space is limited in the restaurant, so please contact a board member or the First Defenders by email (see the Regimental Staff page).
"The 128th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry" presented by Paula Gidjunis
Men of the 128th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry men hailed from the counties of Bucks, Berks and Lehigh. They were "nine-month men," enlisting in August 1862 in response to the fear of invasion of the North by the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The 128th would earn its baptism by fire at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland after barely one month of service. With scant opportunity for military training, they would pay the price with heavy casualties. By their time to muster out and return home was nearing, these veteran soldiers would find themselves in the thick of the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, and they possibly were the catalyst resulting in the friendly fire shooting of Confederate General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson.
Paula Gidjunis is a retired middle school Social Studies and adjunct college history teacher, and currently works as a bookkeeper for JPG Photography in Philadelphia. She serves on the board of the Delaware Valley CWRT and chairs its Preservation Committee. Paula also serves on the board of the Historical Society of Montgomery County. She has a bachelors degree in History/Education, a certificate in Historical Preservation, a M.B.A. and a M. A. in History from LaSalle University. Paula lives in Glenside, PA, and when not doing something historical is babysitting her toddler grandson.
"Colonel Charles Albright & the 132nd PVI" presented by Dave Fox
Charles Albright was born in Berks County, but moved to Carbon County while in his teens. After attending Dickinson College, he became a lawyer and a businessman in Mauch Chunk. Active in local politics, Albright would become a delegate to the 1860 Republican Convention in Chicago that nominated Abraham Lincoln for president. When the Civil War broke out, Albright volunteered for the Union Army and was appointed to the colonelcy of the 132nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in 1862. Albright and his nine-month command saw action in several major battles during their enlistment, and later he became a colonel in two other regiments before the end of the hostilities in 1865.
After the war he was one of the prosecutors of the infamous Molly Maguires in Carbon County where four miners were hung. In the 1870's Albright would be elected to Congress from Carbon County.
Charles Albright was the great, great uncle of program presenter and long-time First Defender Dave Fox. Dave is a former history teacher at Reading High School, and has previously spoken on the life of General David M. Gregg.
"Mary Todd Lincoln - A Living History Portrayal" presented by Linda Minarik
There is little question that Mary Todd Lincoln is among the most memorable of the First Ladies who have graced the White House. There is also little question that Mrs. Lincoln was unique in many ways. Well-educated and politically-astute, she announced at a young age she intended to marry a President of the United States, and in March 1861 she fulfilled that destiny. Intensely jealous of her husband, she could not claim a huge number of female confidants. The Civil War would drive a schism in the Todd family, and Mary would experience personal trials that most would find overwhelming.
Getting to know Mary Todd Lincoln's story first-hand is interesting, informative and certain to change many long-standing notions about the woman, her family and the man she truly loved. This is a living history portrayal you won't want to miss!
Linda Minarik is a retired teacher from Bethlehem Liberty High School. She has portrayed Mary Todd Lincoln at the Gettysburg sesquicentennial and for dozens of other venues over the past ten years, and can be seen strolling the ground of the Coopersburg Community Day every September.
"From Soldiers to Governors" presented by Dave Unger
Six of the first eight Pennsylvania governors after the Civil War were veterans of that conflict. They spanned four decades from the inauguration of John White Geary in 1867 to the final day in office of Samuel W. Pennypacker in January of 1907. Along the way they would include some memorable (and not so memorable) men including John Hartranft, Henry Hoyt, Robert Pattison (twice!), James Beaver, Daniel Hastings and William Stone. Even though they rose to great political heights they did not forget their combat memories or their military comrades. This is the story of those men from their battlefield experience to their political impact on Pennsylvania and the nation. It is based on the accounts in the book Soldiers to Governors by Richard C. Saylor and supplemented by additional research.
David Unger is a long-time member of the First Defenders. He taught American History at Blue Mountain High School for thirty-five years, and has spoken to the First Defenders twice before. Dave is presently the Program Chair for the organization.
"From Kirby’s Kingdom: Ramifications from the Trans-Mississippi in 1864" presented by Phillip Greenwalt
The pivotal Red River Campaign in the Trans-Mississippi theater was fought by Union General Nathaniel Banks forces with naval support under Admiral David Porter against Confederate General Richard Taylor’s Army of Western Louisiana. Largely overlooked by events east of the Mississippi River, this program brings into focus the fighting along the Red River and bayous of western Louisiana. What transpired resulted in a Confederate victory, but due to command issues and competing visions the victory was without triumph. The ramifications of this empty success would reverberate across the Confederacy as far as the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in 1864.
Phillip S.Greenwalt is returning for his second presentation to the First Defenders. He is a co-founder of Emerging Revolutionary War and the Emerging Revolutionary War Series as well as a full-time contributor to Emerging Civil War. He is the co-author of three volumes of the Emerging Civil War Series and two volumes of the inaugural volumes of the Emerging Revolutionary War Series.
Phill has a graduate degree in American History from George Mason University and a bachelor’s in history from Wheeling Jesuit University. He is currently a Supervisory Park Ranger for Everglades National Park. He has also served in official National Park Service details at Morristown National Historical Park, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park, and Fort McHenry National Memorial and Historic Shrine. He began his National Park Service career at George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Thomas Stone National Historic Site as a park ranger-historian. He is a native of Baltimore, Maryland.
"Searching for George Gordon Meade" presented by Tom Huntington
Who was George Gordon Meade, and why has he been pushed into the shadows rather than being feted as one of the Civil War's most important generals? A solid soldier who had command of the Army of the Potomac thrust upon him only three days before the climactic Battle of Gettysburg, Meade's reputation was quickly diminished by the press, Radical politicians, the irascible Dan Sickles and the looming shadow of Ulysses S. Grant. Meade once grumbled, "I suppose after awhile it will be discovered I was not at Gettysburg at all."
The search for George Meade reveals an interesting life, a solid antebellum military career and an impressive Civil War experience that is often overlooked. The victor of Gettysburg would be the last commander the Army of the Potomac ever had, but many don't realize that because Meade was eclipsed by Grant. His is an interesting story that is worth discovering.
Tom Huntington is a magazine editor who has developed a love for stories that merge stories from the past with discoveries of the present. He has published Ben Franklin's Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Civil War Trails, as well as numerous articles in Civil War Times, America's Civil War and Smithsonian, to name a few. Tom resides in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, with his wife and children.