Spotsylvania, 1864: Breeching the Mule Show

By May of 1864, the Civil War, now in its fourth year and showing no signs of abating , had reached a whole new level of intensity. Around the sleepy Virginia village of Spotsylvania Court House, Robert E. Lee’s Confederates dug-in, defending the road to Richmond, while the Federals under Ulysses S. Grant and George Gordon Meade pounded on them relentlessly.

Tactics changed at Spotsylvania–innovations in earthworks and how to attack them had evolved to a new level by this point–all of which led to the single worst bloodletting of the tragic Overland Campaign.

Come join us as Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Lead Historian Frank O’Reilly takes us back to the Battle of the Bloody Angle and the prelude attack at the Mule Shoe that set the stage for this incredible white-heat moment of combat. Spotsylvania became a life-and-death struggle for the Union and the Confederacy which created a profound legacy that endures to this day.


Frank A. O’Reilly received both his BA and MA in American History with a concentration in Early American Military History and Civil War Studies. After graduating from Washington & Lee University in 1987, he joined the National Park Service at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. Later he worked with the Park Service at Independence Hall in Philadelphia before returning to Fredericksburg in 1990 as the park’s permanent historian. He has also served as an historical consultant for the City of Fredericksburg. O’Reilly, who has lectured extensively on military history to audiences around the world, has written numerous articles on the Civil War and Mexican War and has appeared on CSPAN and in several video documentaries.

He is the author of Stonewall Jackson at Fredericksburg and The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock which garnered several awards including a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in Letters. Currently he is researching a book on the Battle of Malvern Hill and the Seven Days’ Campaign around Richmond.

Difficult and broken ground: the terrain as a factor in the battle of Shiloh

Numerous factors combined to bring about the major Union victory that was Shiloh.

Timing, numbers, and leadership all combined to sway the action in definite ways, but perhaps the most dominant and least understood reason for the reversal of Confederate fortunes was the terrain on which the Battle of Shiloh took place. Understanding of the battle must be based firmly on an understanding of the field on which it was fought.

Come join us on Tuesday, Aug. 14, as Dr. Timothy B. Smith, basing his talk on his award-winning book Shiloh: Conquer or Perish, will walk us through a detailed examination of the terrain factor at Shiloh. He will explain how the ground, often described negatively as a trap for the Union forces, was set up perfectly for Union victory and Confederate defeat.

Little known features will be examined to understand more fully how the battle was
shaped and how it funneled in certain directions, leading to a major advantage for the Federal forces. Albert Sidney Johnston famously proclaimed that he must conquer or perish that day. After seeming to do the former, he and many Confederate soldiers under him did the latter at Shiloh in large part due to the terrain on which the battle was fought.

Timothy Smith

Timothy B. Smith, who holds a Ph.D. from Mississippi State University, is a veteran of the National Park Service and currently teaches history at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

In addition to numerous articles and essays, he is the author, editor, or co-editor of eighteen books, including

  • Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg (2004), which won the nonfiction book award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters,
  • Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation (2012), which won the Fletcher Pratt Award and the McLemore Prize,
  • Shiloh: Conquer or Perish (2014), which won the Richard B. Harwell Award, the Tennessee History Book Award, and the Douglas Southall Freeman Award, and
  • Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson (2016), which won the Tennessee History Book Award, the Emerging Civil War Book Award, the Albert Castel Award, and the Douglas Southall Freeman Award.

His book on Grierson’s Raid, The Real Horse Soldiers, comes out in September, and he is currently writing a book on the May 19 th and 22 nd Union assaults on the Confederate lines at Vicksburg that preceded the siege and surrender of the city.

Tim lives with his wife Kelly and children Mary Kate and Leah Grace in Adamsville, Tennessee.

Monthly Civil War Information Packets – How to get one

Each month, 100 packets of Civil War information are donated to the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable.

There are two ways to get a copy. (1) Be one of the first 100 people arriving at the monthly meeting or (2) pick up a packet left on a table after the meeting.

On the average only 80% of the packets are taken home. The remainder are available for anyone wanting a packet but didn’t get one initially. During the over 75 months that groups of packets have been donated to KCWRT and handed out to members, there has never been a month when all of the packets were taken home.

After everyone that wants a copy gets one, the remaining packets are collected and become part of future handouts for guests.

Ft. Dickerson spring clean-up report

The Civil War Trust sponsors an annual work day at multiple Civil War sites. Here in Knoxville the KCWRT has for many years partnered with the City of Knoxville Parks & Recreation Department to preserve historic Fort Dickerson, and to promote public visitation and appreciation of this unique location, which was an

integral part of Union defenses during the siege of Knoxville in November, 1863. Our initial Spring Clean-Up on April 7 was canceled due to weather, and rescheduled for April 28, which turned out to be a lovely day.

Director of Preservation Eric Wayland arranged for the City to furnish a Bobcat for lifting mulch for the paths, and 15-20 Police Scouts donated their Saturday morning to spread the mulch. Cannons and interpretive signs were cleaned, debris removed, and other odd jobs performed by several volunteers, including Eric’s daughter Kelly and her family, and KCWRT members Jim Doncaster, Dick Heisser, Dennis
Urban, Stan Sech, Tom Wright, Jerry Patterson, Melanie and Miranda Goldstine, and John Burkhart.

Thanks to the efforts of the City of Knoxville Maintenance Department, increased patrols by the Knoxville Police Department, and the new entry and hiking and bicycle trails, visitation has increased significantly. Our Roundtable has made a significant contribution. Fort Dickerson Park is definitely worth a visit.

Dinner reservations revisited

At our monthly meeting on May 8, we paid for 102 diners. Unfortunately, we had only 82 reservations, so we had to set up an additional table and barely had enough food. Of the 102 who ate dinner, 72 were members, and 30 were guests. We also had 24 members and 6 guests who attended the lecture. A large crowd is wonderful, and if we could reliably count on 90 for dinner, we could routinely reserve both halves
of the building and never be cramped.

1. Join us for dinner.
2. Call 671-9001 before 12 noon on the Monday before the meeting and make a reservation.
3. Do not sit at a table if you are not eating.
4. Do not sit in a chair away from the table if you are eating.
Bearden Banquet Hall counts heads at tables and diners in chairs, and charges us accordingly. The Board tries keep dinner costs low, and so there is little margin. Losing money is not fiscally responsible. We want our meetings to be both attended and affordable. Please help.

President’s message: Never dull or boring

“And what is so rare as a day in June?”—-James Russell Lowell, 1848

As my year as President draws to a close, a small amount of retrospection is appropriate. It’s been an educational year, usually interesting, sometimes aggravating, but never dull nor boring. I appreciate the opportunity to serve, and am especially grateful for the chance to work with some truly generous people who give freely of their time, talent, and financial support to make our club and community better. I won’t name names, because not only would I omit someone, but also because none of them seem to do what they do in hopes of public recognition or adulation.

We are, of course, an organization of volunteers, and have been since 1983. Many of our members contribute additional financial support beyond basic dues, which allows us to do more than just publish a monthly newsletter and have dinner meetings with outstanding speakers. Board members keep the wheels turning, and volunteers support our preservation efforts at Fort Dickerson, Living History Weekend in
October, and the East Tennessee History Fair in August. Many of our members are re-enactors and speakers at schools, museums, churches, civic clubs, and other
organizations. All of this, and more, supports our mission of “promoting the knowledge, commemoration, and preservation of our American Civil War heritage.”
June is the first month of summer. The days are long and warm, and it’s a good time to visit historic sites, or just to read a good book. Our semimonthly Board meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 5, at Bearden Public Library. Meetings are always open to Roundtable members, but due to a long agenda, this month we’ll begin at 5 pm instead of the usual 6 pm. This will be the farewell meeting for John Stegner, who filled two offices this year, and Laura Reagan, who has been on the Board for the past 18 years. Joining the Board on July 1 will be Melanie Goldstine, Sheila Burchfield, and Tim Vane. Some current Board members will assume new duties, and Jack Spiceland will serve as our next President. I look forward to this coming year of excellent leadership from Jack and your Board.

John Burkhart

“The past is prologue.”—-William Shakespeare, “Hamlet”

Editor’s Note:
It was with deep sadness that we learned of the passing of long time friend and
KCWRT member Dr. Robert H. Greer. Bob served on the Board as Treasurer for
many years and will be sorely missed. He was a great man and a great friend.
The family asks that any donations be made to Remote Area Medical Foundation,
2200 Stock Creek Blvd., Rockford, Tenn., 37853, or to the Robert H. Greer
Scholarship Fund at The McCallie School, 500 Dodds Ave., Chattanooga, Tenn.,


Braxton Bragg: The most hated man in the Confederacy

History has not been kind to Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

Braxton Bragg

His reputation, sullied during the Civil War, has suffered ever since. The most-hated man of the Confederacy was blamed for lost battles and branded as a chief cause of Confederate defeat. Considered a tyrant who callously executed his own soldiers, often for seemingly trivial causes, he was the victim of many a false story

Rather than causing Rebel defeat, Bragg was actually the most able commander of the Army of Tennessee, but
he worked under a wide variety of problems typical of most
high-ranking Southern commanders. Many of his colleagues and
soldiers continued to believe in his leadership despite the many
controversies surrounding his troubled Civil War career.

Come join us on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, as Dr. Earl Hess breaks away from the prevailing historiography to portray Bragg in a more balanced way, as a man with unusual talent that was recognized by many including
his chief supporter, Confederate president Jefferson Davis.


Dr. Earl J. Hess has been a student of Civil War history since
he was a teenager, growing up in rural Missouri.

He completed his B.A. and M.A. degrees in History at Southeast
Missouri State University. His Ph.D. in American Studies,
with a concentration in History, was awarded by Purdue
University in 1986. He has taught at a number of institutions,
including the University of Georgia, Texas Tech University,
and the University of Arkansas.

Since 1989, he has been at Lincoln Memorial University, in Harrogate, Tennessee, where he is Associate Professor of History, past director of the
History Program, and holds the Stewart McClelland Chair.

Dr. Hess has published more than twenty books, over thirty
articles, and more than a hundred book reviews for academic
history journals. His book, Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated
Man of the Confederacy, the subject of his June presentation
(University of North Carolina Press, 2016), won the Richard Barksdale Harwell Book Award, Atlanta Civil War Round Table, in 2017.

Sultana Association reunion, Selma, AL, April 27-29, 2018

–Norman Shaw

The 31st annual reunion of Sultana descendants and friends will be held this coming April 27th and 28th in Selma, AL. Selma is only about 12 miles from the now abandoned town of Cahaba, once the state capital, where about 3,000 Union soldiers were imprisoned in an abandoned cotton warehouse. About 1,200 of these men ended up on the Sultana steamboat, along with

about the same number from Andersonville Prison, that was transporting them home when it blew up on the Mississippi River about 2 a.m. on April 27, 1865, about seven miles above Memphis.

This continues to be the worst maritime disaster in American history with about 1,200 lives lost, mostly former Union POWs crammed on the Sultana at Vicksburg, MS, a few days earlier.

For more information about the 2018 reunion, contact
Norman Shaw at Everyone is welcome!

If you are planning to attend the KCWRT, make a reservation

At the regular monthly meeting on March 13 we had 74 diners but only 52 reservations. The folks at Bearden Banquet Hall had to scramble but were able to prepare enough food. There were 24 people who came for the lecture, yielding a grand total of 98 persons who shared the evening. Since no one had reserved the other half of the hall, BBH graciously allowed us to use both sides, and we weren’t cramped for space….this time.

In order to guarantee the use of the full facility in advance, BBH requires that we pay for 90 dinners. The Board has debated this issue repeatedly and at length, and also our reservation process. There is essentially no cushion in our current charge for dinner, which of course includes use of the building, microphone, projection screen, display tables, and United States flag. In other words, we pay BBH almost 100% of what we charge members and guests.

Ideally everyone would call and make a dinner reservation, the phone system would work flawlessly, and we would have at least 90 diners at each meeting so that we could have the full room and not be crowded. As announced at the start of every meeting, one of our purposes is the promotion of knowledge of our Civil War heritage, and visitors and the general public are always welcome. In the end, our problems would be greatly reduced if members consistently extended the courtesy of calling in ahead for a dinner reservation.

So…..please join us often and always. Make a reservation, come for dinner, and enjoy our speaker. And share ideas for improvement with your Board members.

35 years of the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable

During the winter of 1982-83 a few folks discovered that they had a common interest in the American Civil War, and discussed forming a club “for knowledge, commemoration, and preservation of our Civil War heritage” which remains our purpose today. In April 1983 club leader Norman Shaw published Volume I Number 1 of “The Scout’s Report”. It was three pages, typed and copied, folded and mailed. Today’s newsletter is eight pages, full-color, multiple font sizes, and includes artwork and photographs.

Originally Round Table was two words. After incorporation, it became a single word. The club began regular meetings in April 1983, and met from 7:30-9:00 pm in an activities room at Middlebrook Pike United Methodist Church. Dinner was not served. Members took turns presenting programs of interest. Now of course we meet for dinner, and our speakers are renowned experts, both local and national.

In 1983 dues were $10 per person, and have only increased to the current $25 per year. There were ten charter members, and three of those are still members: Walt Corey, Jim Doncaster, and Norman Shaw. One of the club’s goals was to have 50 members by the end of the first year. By the end of the first month there were 33, including Jim Tumblin, and the initial benchmark was easily met. Today we have 240 members, the most in our history.

The original members adopted Fort Dickerson as a preservation and interpretation project. Over the next 35 years KCWRT members have invested hundreds of work hours and thousands of dollars in this community resource and historic treasure. Three replica artillery pieces and multiple interpretive signs have been placed, and we organize and host an annual Living History Weekend.

The past 35 years have seen much growth in the club and much service to members and community. It behooves all of us to continue to build on this legacy.