Musters – Events

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).

 

MEMBERS ONLY! Sign up to attend the upcoming event!

 

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."