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 Second Battle of Franklin
On November 30, 1864 one of the most sanguinary battles of the Civil War took place south of Nashville near the sleepy town of Franklin, Tennessee. By the end of the day, the Confederate army of John Bell Hood had engaged in an assault nearly twice as large as Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg the year before. Crashing up against prepared Yankee breastworks, the resulting carnage in just five hours totaled more than 6,500 Rebel casualties, more than 20-percent, including six general officers one of whom, Patrick Cleburne, was arguably the finest division commander in the Confederate armies. The heart and soul of the Army of Tennessee was gone, and two weeks later that once-valiant fighting force was all-but eliminated in front of Nashville.
The Battle of Franklin is often overlooked. No national military park exists there, and almost the entire battlefield has been swallowed up by modern development. But, a new battle is in progress, one which is focused on preserving that which is left and interpreting the titanic struggle and its aftermath in a 21st Century fashion. The Second Battle of Franklin is intended to remedy the oversights of the past, pay homage to those who struggled there in what may have been the climactic battle of the Western Theatre and shine a well-deserved spotlight where it has long-been absent.
Craig Breneiser is serving his fourth term as president of the First Defenders Civil War Round Table. This is his second presentation to the group, and he has been long-intrigued by the 1864 Tennessee Campaign that has been eclipsed in history by Sherman's March to the Sea, but which almost certainly played a more critical role in the outcome of the Civil War. Craig is the retired director of the Berks County 9-1-1 Center, and currently works as a consultant for Essential Management Solutions, LLC. He lives with his wife, Lisa, in Lehigh County where he continues to contemplate writing his book.
The United States Army Medical Department in the Civil War
Anyone with experience in emergency medical or trauma care recognizes many of the most important advances in the field have their genesis, unfortunately, on the battlefield. Many aspects of the care practiced today in both war zones and on the homefront can be traced directly back to treatments and procedures first practiced during the Civil War.
The antebellum U.S. Army Medical Department was woefully unprepared for the influx of battle casualties and medical crises that followed the organization of huge volunteer armies. Problems arose from the outset with the rudimentary education of many Old Army surgeons who were loathe to adapt and improvise to changing conditions. In time, however, circumstances forced changes in medical organization, treatment and transport of the wounded, an evolving understanding of disease and sanitation and the importance of nursing care. Too, the efforts by the United States Sanitary and Christian Commissions provided support and resources previously unknown to medical "professionals."
This program will trace the evolution of the U.S. Army Medical Department from its antebellum days to the legacies that have been handed down to battlefields in foreign lands and the highways and byways of modern America.
Roundtable Vice President Mark Quattrock has studied Civil War era medicine for years, and regularly practices the art as a "living historian." With the assistance of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Mark is currently researching a book on this topic.
Phil Kearny- International Soldier
The American Civil War produced many memorable and flamboyant personalities who, even 15 decades later, almost seem larger than life. Major General Phil Kearny was one such individual who would have loomed even larger had he not been cut down during the Battle of Chantilly in September 1862.
"Kearny the Magnificent" was the scion of a wealthy family who pointed him toward a career in law. But, a desire for military adventure that burned from his youth would push him toward the U.S. Army and a commission at the age of 21. Wanderlust would take him to other continents to fight with other armies, and he was know for riding into battle with the reins of his horse held in his teeth, a revolved in one hand and a swinging saber in the other. Loss of an arm during the Mexican War did nothing to decrease his flamboyance (even if he did have to use only one weapon at a time!). On the Peninsula, Kearny was at the head of his troops urging them forward saying, "Don't worry men, they'll be shooting at me!"
At the time of his death, rumor suggested President Abraham Lincoln was considering him as a replacement for George McClellan, and its interesting to hypothesize what may have happened to the Union war effort if the magnificent Kearny had been promoted to lead the Army of the Potomac instead of Ambrose Burnside.
Wally Heimbach is a long-time Roundtable participant who seems to know almost everyone who is anyone in modern-day Civil War touring, research and writing. His first Roundtable presentation in 2018, a last-minute substitute for the renowned Ed Bearss, dealt with another superb Union general, "Hancock the Superb."
The Sultana Disaster
The Sultana was a classic Mississippi River side-wheel steamboat heading north with an overloaded passenger manifest on April 27, 1865 when three of her four boilers exploded near Memphis. In the worst maritime disaster in United States history, the disaster claimed nearly 1,200 victims.
Taking on passengers and cargo at Vicksburg, the Sultana was intended to carry fewer than 400 people. But, with the end of the Civil War, the upriver trip would include many former Union POWs anxious to return home. When the Sultana left the dock, there were more than 2,100 souls-on-board a vessel whose captain already had concerns about her mechanical condition.
It was about 2 o'clock in the morning as the Sultana was fighting a strong spring flood current that her first boiler exploded with two others following in quick succession. Passengers were scalded, burned to death in the ensuing fire or thrown overboard into icy waters to perish. Yet, at least 760 would survive to tell their stories.
The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln less than two weeks before consumed the nation's interest, and the Sultana disaster would be relegated to "below the fold" in news reporting. Yet in disaster, there are fascinating stories of courage to be told and important lessons to be learned.
Jim Lawler is a retired computer software engineer and a long-time resident of Chester County where he is a member of the Brandywine Valley Civil War Round Table. Jim is also a past Camp Commander and current Secretary-Treasurer of the Bradbury Camp, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Jim's interest in the Civil War is due to his Great-Grandfather, Private Michael Dougherty of the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry, a Medal of Honor Recipient, and survivor of the prisoner-of- war camps in Richmond and Andersonville. He also survived the Sultana Disaster.
The Louisiana Tigers in Pennsylvania
Next to the famed "Stonewall Brigade," there is probably no more colorful organization in the Army of Northern Virginia than the 1st Louisiana Brigade, better known as the "Louisiana Tigers." The Tigers are most-often connected with the assault on East Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg on the evening of July 2nd, but Harry Hays' men played an important and somewhat raucous role on their northern journey.
At First Manassas, they were known as "Wheat's Tigers," many of whom had less-than savory reputations in the pre-war era but who were hard, tough and feared by their Northern adversaries. Under Hay's leadership, the Tigers were instrumental in the Battle of Second Winchester in June 1863 that would open the door into Pennsylvania. They would follow Jubal Early's division through Gettysburg in late June as it headed for the Susquehanna River, and would be bivouacked outside of York for two days because officers feared the consequences of allowing their men in a town still occupied by women and liquor. They would return to Gettysburg a few days later and eventually break through portions of the Union East Cemetery Hill line before being forced back by Federal reinforcement and a lack of support from Confederate units.
Possibly because the Tigers were never associated with a dashing, charismatic leader like their Second Corps "Stonewall" comrades, historians tend to give short shrift to these fighting Louisianians and their contributions to the Pennsylvania Campaign.
Scott Mingus is a scientist and executive in the paper industry, and holds patents in self-adhesive postage stamps and bar code labels. The Ohio native graduated from the paper science and engineering program at Miami University, and was part of the research team that developed the first commercially successful self-adhesive U.S. postage stamps. Scott has authored fifteen Civil War books, and his biography of Confederate General William “Extra Billy” Smith won the 2013 Nathan Bedford Forrest Southern History Award as well as the Dr. James I Robertson, Jr. Literary Prize. Scott maintains a blog on the Civil War history of York County (www.yorkblog.com/cannonball). His great-great-grandfather was a 15-year-old drummer boy in the 51st Ohio Infantry, and other family members fought with the Army of the Potomac at Antietam and Gettysburg.
The Presidency of U.S. Grant & the Impact on Reconstruction
Voters went to the polls in 1868 more than three years after Appomattox, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the tumultuous presidency of Andrew Johnson. There was little question that Union hero of the war Ulysses S. Grant would become the 18th president of the United States. With the effects of the war still fresh in public memory and the problematic Reconstruction still uncontrolled, the nation turned to Grant.
Much of the martial capacity imbued in Grant during wartime would not translate into political capabilities required in civilian government administration. Unique political, economic and cultural forces had been unleashed by the Civil War that Grant would need to address during his tumultuous two terms as chief executive frequently overshadowed by his wartime service and the administration's many scandals.
Historical reassessment, though, has shed new light on the business of politics in the decade after the Civil War, and Grant has emerged as an energetic and even progressive executive who faced some of the most difficult issues dealing with Reconstruction and the evolving, expanding United States.
Dr. Paul Kahan earned a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Temple University. Prior to that, Dr. Kahan earned an M.A. in Modern American History & Literature from Drew University and B.A.s in history and English (with minors in medieval/Renaissance studies and music) from Alfred University. He has published several books, including "Eastern State Penitentiary: A History," "Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Scandalous Secretary of War," "The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant: Preserving the Civil War's Legacy," and "The Bank War: Andrew Jackson, Nicholas Biddle, and the Fight for American Finance."