Acclaimed Civil War scholar Bud Robinson to address ‘The Turning Point of the Civil War’

Anyone who has studied the Civil War for any length of time has an opinion about when the fortunes of war shifted, and the fate of the Southern Confederacy was indelibly sealed.

Some argue that the battle of Antietam and the subsequent issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation was the beginning of the end. Others who favor the “Great Man” theory of history suggest that Chancellorsville and the loss of Jackson tipped the scales inexorably in favor of the Union.

Gettysburg apologists point to the Copse of Trees and the “Highwater Mark” monument there, arguing that Southern hopes and dreams never recovered after July 3rd, 1863.

No, say the Western Theater proponents; the Confederacy’s downward slide began a day later than that, on the fourth of July to be exact, when Pemberton surrendered to Grant at Vicksburg and the Mississippi once again flowed “unvexed to the sea”.

Come join us on April 10 as renowned historian Bud Robertson enters the fray to share his thoughts on when the turning point of the Civil War occurred. This is one you’re not going to want to miss!


One of the most distinguished names in Civil War history, Dr. James I “Bud” Robertson served as Executive Director of the U.S. Civil War Centennial Commission in the 1960s and worked with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in commemorating the war’s 100th anniversary. He then taught 44 years at Virginia Tech, where his upper division course on the Civil War era attracted 300 or more students per semester and made it the largest class of its kind in the nation. At his retirement in 2011, the University named him Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History.

Dr. Robertson holds a Ph.D. degree from Emory University and honorary doctorates from Randolph-Macon College and Shenandoah University.

He was a charter member (by Senate appointment) of Virginia’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and was actively engaged in the state’s sesquicentennial observances.

The Danville, Virginia native is the author or editor of more than 25 books including biographies of Gens. Robert E. Lee and A. P. Hill, several works on the common soldiers, and three studies written for young readers. His massive biography of Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson won eight national awards and was used as the basis for the characterization of Jackson in the Ted Turner/Warner Bros. mega-movie, “Gods and Generals,” a film for which he served as chief historical consultant.

More recently, Dr. Robertson’s popular book, The Untold Civil War was published by the National Geographic Society in 2011 followed by The Diary of a Southern Refugee in 2013. After the Civil War: The Heroes, Villains, Soldiers, and Civilians Who Changed America is his latest book. Published by the National Geographic Society, it was released in 2015. His newly completed book on Robert E. Lee will be released later this year.

The recipient of every major award given in Civil War history, and a lecturer of national acclaim, Dr. Robertson is probably more in demand as a speaker than anyone else in the field of Civil War studies.

KCWRT speaker update: Brian McKnight to speak in place of Gordon Rhea

Gordon Rhea, our scheduled speaker for Tuesday, March 13th, is not only a
renowned Civil War author and historian, he is also a US attorney of note. In
his capacity as attorney, he has been ordered by a judge to appear in her
courtroom this week thus making his appearance with us impossible.

To the rescue is our old friend Brian McKnight, historian, author, tour guide, and
professor at University at Virginia – Wise.  His topic will be the subject of his
current research and next book:  Simon Bolivar Buckner.

Brian McKnight is Professor of History and a Founding Director of the Center for
Appalachian Studies at University of Virginia-Wise. He is a specialist in contested
and coerced loyalties and is the author of Contested Borderland: The Civil War in
Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia, which won the James I. Robertson Literary
Award, and Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in
Appalachia, which won the Tennessee Library Award for best book in Tennessee
history. His most recent book is titled “We Fight For Peace”: The Story of
Twenty-Three American Soldiers, Prisoners of War, and Turncoats in the Korean
War. His other writings have been featured in the New York Times and his work
on Korean War prisoners of war was profiled in the New Yorker.  Brian is
currently at work on a volume of writings on guerrilla warfare in the Civil War and
is coauthoring with Gary Robert Matthews a biography of Confederate General
Simon Bolivar Buckner. Brian grew up in Virginia’s westernmost county and
received his undergraduate degree from UVa-Wise and his Ph.D. from Mississippi
State University.  When he is not teaching or researching, he is usually on his farm
planting fruit trees, building fences, and keeping bees.


Simon Bolivar Buckner

Simon Bolivar Buckner Sr. graduated from the United States Military Academy
with the class of 1844.  He served during the Mexican-American War, during
which he fought at the battles of Churubusco, where he was wounded, as well as
Contreras, Churubusco, and Molino del Rey.  After the war, he briefly taught at
West Point, and served in the west before resigning from the military in 1855.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Buckner was the adjutant general of the
Kentucky State Guard, and after declining a commission of brigadier general in the
Union Army, accepted a commission of brigadier general in the Confederate Army
on September 14, 1861.

After joining the army, Buckner was sent by General
Albert Sidney Johnston to be one of the brigadier generals in charge of defending
Fort Donelson, an important fortification built along the Cumberland River.
Forces under General Ulysses S. Grant were able to force Buckner and several
other generals in the fort to accept an “unconditional surrender” that helped bring
fame to Grant.  Buckner was imprisoned until August 15, 1862, when he was
exchanged for Union general George A. McCall.  After his release from prison, he
returned to the Confederate Army where he served under General Braxton Bragg at
the Battle of Perryville, and helped fortify Mobile, Alabama until April of 1863.
He was then transferred to the Department of East Tennessee and directed an
infantry corps at the Battle of Chickamauga, and then under General James
Longstreet during the Siege of Knoxville.  On September 20, 1864, he was
promoted to lieutenant general, and became the Chief of Staff under General Kirby
Smith, until the army surrendered in 1865.

After the war, Buckner lived in New Orleans, since he was not permitted to reside
in Kentucky for three years.  He returned to Kentucky in 1868, and was elected
governor of Kentucky in 1887, where he served until 1891.

Missionary Ridge battlefield tour set for March 17

Please join us on Saturday, March 17th, 2018, as we tour the battlefield and learn more about Missionary Ridge, the Chattanooga Campaign and the men who fought in it. We are pleased to have return as our guide, Jim Ogden, Chief Historian at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. This tour will start at 9 a.m. In Chattanooga and end about 5. The tour will proceed, rain or shine. We have two options for getting to Chattanooga: people can drive directly at a future designated location or carpool by meeting up and departing from the large Walmart parking lot at Turkey Creek near Chick-fil-A at 7 a.m.

This will be the KCWRT’s third trip with Jim Ogden covering different portions of the Battle of Chattanooga. The first tour covered Sherman’s army’s approach and eventual attack against Cleburne’s men on the northern portion of Missionary Ridge at Tunnel Hill. The second tour was at the opposite end on the Union line covering the Battle of Lookout Mountain, where recently arrived soldiers from the XI and XII Corps of the Army of the Potomac under Gen. Hooker clashed with Confederate soldiers from Cheatham and Stevenson’s Divisions of the Army of Tennessee. This coming March 17th we will tour the central portion of Missionary Ridge.

After the defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga the prior September, the Army of the Cumberland needed a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of the Federal High Command. General Grant and his staff observed the attack on Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863, from a position on Orchard Knob just outside the city of Chattanooga. In order to take pressure off Sherman’s stalled attacks at Tunnel Hill against Confederate troops under the command of Gen. Patrick Cleburne, Grant ordered Gen. Thomas to move the Army of the Cumberland forward to take the Confederate rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge. However, after reaching the rifle pits, the Union soldiers without orders spontaneously charged up Missionary Ridge breaking the center of the Confederate line and forcing Bragg’s Army to withdraw from Chattanooga, thereby lifting the siege.

For some good reading on the Battle of Chattanooga and the actions on Missionary Ridge, see Blue and Gray Magazine’s 2013, #6, issue written by the late Wiley Sword; “The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battle for Chattanooga”, by Peter Cozzens; or visit the Civil War Trust’s web page, which has extensive information on the battle and some of the people who fought it in.

If you plan to go on the Missionary Ridge tour and have not yet notified us, please email Neil Williams at or Norman Shaw at so we can add your names to the list.

—by Neil J. Williams and Norman C. Shaw

KCWRT to celebrate 35th year in April

Thirty-five years ago, a few dedicated men and women gathered together to form the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable. The challenges and obstacles which they faced in the beginning were many and it is only through their efforts and hard work that the KCWRT came to occupy the special and successful place in Knoxville history that it enjoys today.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the formation of the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable and we would like to invite each and every one of you to join us in recognizing and honoring our organization’s 35 anniversary. Please come and help us celebrate our 35th anniversary in a special way. The celebration will be held at out monthly Roundtable meeting on April10, 2018.

We will kick off this celebratory evening by featuring the honorable George Lane as Master of Ceremonies. George will be raffling off t-shirts, pens, and Civil War books and we will also have a special Anniversary cake to commemorate the occasion. A large assortment of Civil War and World War II books will also be offered for sale at the meeting at a discounted price.

If you are running out of room at home for your own collection of history books, please consider donating some of them to the Roundtable, so that we can offer them for sale at our April Meeting.

Remember, the annual membership dues charged by the Roundtable only cover a small percentage of our administrative costs and we heavily depend on alternative sources of revenue to help us offset expenses.

Please plan to come in “period” costume if you have one, as we look forward to hearing Dr. James “Bud” Robertson, Historian, College Professor and Author, speak to our membership on “The Eastern and Western Military Theaters: Which Was Most Important?”

We look forward to seeing all of you there.


As a part of the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable’s 35th Anniversary Celebration, the organization is offering for sale a huge collection of Civil War and World War II books at its monthly meeting on April10, 2018. The books cover a wide variety of subjects and should be of major interest to the true history buff.

For used books, these steeply discounted books offer the best prices in town and should afford the reader countless hours of entertainment and enjoyment from the comfort of the nearest arm chair. If you are looking for a super deal on books from the Civil War and World War II eras of history, then you will not want to miss out on this fantastic opportunity to replenish and add to your own private library. The tables in the Bearden Banquet Hall will be literally groaning with the amazing arsenal of donated books for you to peruse. Please plan to come early and be prepared to marvel at the amazing treasures that will be there waiting for you!

Jack Spiceland

Update: Spring cleanup of Ft. Dickerson postponed until Saturday, April 28, 2018 9AM-12 PM

UPDATE: The annual Ft. Dickerson spring cleanup has been postponed until Saturday, April 28. See below


The Civil War Preservation Trust sponsors an annual Park Day at Fort Dickerson.

Volunteers clean up after winter and prepare Civil War sites for increased public visitation and usage during the warmer months. Director of Preservation Eric Wayland has scheduled a work day at Fort Dickerson for the morning of Saturday April 28.

Mark your calendars, and join fellow Roundtable members for a few hours of making our community better. Snacks and t-shirts available. Bring your lawn tools. Police Scouts will be spreading mulch.

Updated speaker schedule through January 2019

Here’s our updated speaker schedule through January 2019:

Apr 10— James “Bud” Robertson, Historian & Author, “The Turning Point of the Civil War” May 8— Brian Allison, Historian & Author, “The Battle of Nashville”
Jun 12— Earl Hess, Historian & Author, “Braxton Bragg”
Jul 10— Will Greene, Historian & Author, “The Battle of the Crater”Aug 14— Tim Smith, Historian & Author, “Difficult and Broken Ground: The Terrain Factor at Shiloh”
Sept 11— Frank O’Reilly, Historian, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP,
“Spotsylvania: Two Fights at the Mule Shoe Salient”
Oct 9 — John Marszalek, H & A, “The Winning Combination: Grant & Sherman”
Nov 13—Ed Bearss, Chief Historian Emeritus/Author, “Farthest Forward: Pickett and Pettigrew at Gettysburg”
Dec 11—Krista Castillo, Fort Negley Museum Coordinator, “Santa Claus in the Trenches: Celebrating Christmas in the Civil War”
Jan 2019—Jim Ogden, Historian, Chickamauga/Chattanooga NMP, TBD

President’s message: Activities around the table

Over a span of 43 years from August 1934 until November 1977, the newspaper cartoon character Li’l Abner periodically proclaimed “No man is an Ireland [sic].” That was true before Dogpatch and its denizens became famous, and it’s still true. Individuals and nations do not exist in a vacuum, and the actions they take—or don’t take—affect others, sometimes at a great remove in both time and place.

Those who attended Kent Wright’s presentation on February 13 were reminded that the American Civil War had repercussions far beyond the shores of America. The sun never set on the British Empire. Great Britain was vitally interested in the causes and consequences of the American conflict. Gigantic forces which would shape the future of world history were at work. Wars are complex affairs.

On March 13 we will welcome Gordon Rhea, whose topic will be “Cold Harbor”, one of the final battles of the Overland Campaign. It’s often overlooked, but the battle had significant effects. The war would continue for almost another year, and the casualty lists and financial and political costs would mount. This will be another interesting, educational evening.

The Eighth Annual Civil War Lecture Series continues at McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee. On Sunday March 25 at 2 pm, Dr. Joan Markel will present “South of the River: Developments in Knoxville’s Historic Preservation Effort.” For 35 years our Roundtable has supported the preservation and historical interpretation of Fort Dickerson. Now Legacy Parks, the Aslan Foundation, the City of Knoxville, and other groups are increasingly adding to our efforts and saving land for public use and edification. This is a good opportunity to learn more about our history and its preservation.

The Civil War Preservation Trust sponsors an annual Park Day. Volunteers clean up after winter and prepare Civil War sites for increased public visitation and usage during the warmer months. Director of Preservation Eric Wayland has scheduled a work day at Fort Dickerson for the morning of Saturday April 7. Mark your calendars, and join fellow Roundtable members for a few hours of making our community better.

Also note that in April we’ll observe the 35th Anniversary of the Roundtable. Our speaker, Dr. Bud Robertson, will present his thoughts on a complex, provocative, and often controversial topic, and we’ll have a few special events to mark the occasion.

Other important future dates include Living History Weekend at Fort Dickerson October 26-28, and a special Missionary Ridge Battlefield Tour on Saturday March 17. This field trip has been organized by members Neil Williams and Norman Shaw, and will be expertly led by Jim Ogden. Due to the government shutdown in January, the Stones River tour had to be cancelled, and will be rescheduled.

At its regular meeting on February 6 the Board approved funding of up to $500 for the second Dot Kelly Preservation Award. Director of Community Activities Stan Sech and other Board members are aggressively publicizing the award and seeking applications. The grant will be announced at the Annual Meeting of the East Tennessee Historical Society in May.

The Board continues to seek ways to improve the monthly meeting experience for our members and guests. Recently a random one-table-at-a-time numbering system has been used to ease congestion in the buffet line. Member feed-back has been overwhelmingly positive, so this system will be continued.
President’s Message

Finally, remember that the Roundtable is a volunteer organization. There are opportunities to benefit the club and the community at multiple levels of talent and time. Be a Volunteer!

John Burkhart, President

Cold Harbor – find out more at the March KCWRT meeting

Cold Harbor. The very name conjures up feelings of foreboding and dread.

More than a century and a half has elapsed since the Army of the Potomac crossed the James River and Baldy Smith’s 18th Corps pressed toward Petersburg aiming to sever the Army of Northern Virginia’s main supply line.

The six weeks of combat preceding the movement on Petersburg represents the most intense continuous bout of warfare the continent has ever witnessed.

Each side’s premier general – Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee – matched wits and endurance in a campaign of combat and maneuver from the Rapidan River to the James. Packed into those six horrific weeks were the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, the North Anna River, and Cold Harbor.

Come join us as historian and author Gordon Rhea presents an appraisal of Grant’s and Lee’s generalship during the Overland Campaign.

The focus will be on the campaign’s final days at Cold Harbor and Grant’s decision to pry Lee from his formidable earthworks by slicing the Army of Northern Virginia’s main supply line at Petersburg. The story is one of the most exciting in the annals of American military history, and who better to tell it than Gordon Rhea who has written the definitive history on the subject.


Gordon Rhea

Gordon Rhea

Gordon C. Rhea received his B.A. in history from Indiana University, his M.A. in history from Harvard University, and his law degree from Stanford University Law School. He served as Special Assistant to the Chief Counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities for two years and as an Assistant United States Attorney in Washington D.C. and the United States Virgin Islands for some seven years. He has been in the private practice of law since 1983.

Mr. Rhea has written seven award-winning books about the American Civil War, including The Battle of the Wilderness, The Battles at Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, To the North Anna River, Cold Harbor, On To Petersburg, Carrying the Flag, and In the Footsteps of Grant and Lee.

He has lectured across the country at the invitation of numerous historical societies, universities, and historic preservation organizations on topics of military history and the Civil War era and has served on the boards of historical societies, history magazines, and historical preservation organizations, including the Civil War Library and Museum, Philadelphia, the North and South magazine, and the Charleston South Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. Mr. Rhea conducts fundraising tours for organizations that raise funds to purchase and preserve historical sites related to the Civil War era, including the Civil War Trust, the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, the Blue and Gray Education Society, and the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield. He has also appeared multiple times as a historian and presenter on nationwide television programs, including productions by The History Channel, A&E Channel, Discovery Channel, and C-Span.

McClung Museum hosts Civil War lecture series

The eighth annual UT McClung Museum Civil War Lecture Series kicked off on January 28, 2018Throughout the series, McClung Museum Civil War Curator Joan Markel and guest contributors explore the places and people of the Civil War in East Tennessee and beyond.

Each Sunday lecture will be held at 2 p.m. in the auditorium of the UT McClung Museum at 1327 Circle Park Drive.

February 18: “History on the Ground: An Armchair Tour of 1863 Knoxville.” Our modern landscape is only a click away from the sites and structures of the Civil War era. The latest technology will allow a comfortable armchair tour of diverse locations rich in Civil War history; the route follows the troops from Farragut down Kingston Pike then around the easily identifiable downtown streets.

March 25: “South of the River: Developments in Knoxville’s Historic Preservation Effort.” Recent preservation efforts at Fort Dickerson, Fort Higley, and the Battlefield Loop section of the Urban Wilderness solidify and highlight events of 1861–1865 on the south side of the Tennessee River in Knoxville.

April 29: “Soldiers and Civilians: History as Documented by the Social Life of an Occupied City.” Knoxville was not just a military post; throughout the war it was the center of social life in East Tennessee. Military personnel and civilians interacted to a significant extent, and surviving stories are of lasting interest. Recent Civil War programming at Blount Mansion will be highlighted by Executive Director David E. Hearnes.

All lectures are free and open to the public. Free parking is available on weekends.

President’s message: the reason for all wars, and more

As I compose this epistle, snow is falling, and so is the thermometer, which is forecast to reach single digits within a few hours. These circumstances lead to increased contemplation on the vital role of logistics and economics in warfare. Several recent speakers at our monthly meetings have touched on the support required to keep an army in the field. In addition to feeding, clothing, sheltering, and arming the troops, the horses and mules required immense amounts of accouterments, fodder, and water. One of Jerry Patterson’s article reprints at the January meeting reviewed some impressive numbers for the animals. Of course, winter weather often magnified logistical difficulties due to cold, snow, mud, and agrarian unproductivity. Wood became fuel and shelter. The armies often needed more of everything, and got less of it. It all cost money, and lots of it. Winter must have been very unpleasant if not miserable for Civil War soldiers, and for civilians too.

When I was a callow youth, a history professor startled my class by stating that all wars were based in economics. He went on to say that almost all armed conflicts had primary if not total economic causation, although higher-sounding excuses such as religion or culture were often advanced. Furthermore, economics generally determined the victor, especially if the conflict was prolonged. I’m sure there are exceptions to his rule, but the area is worthy of much more study and attention than it usually receives.

Join us on February 13 as Kent Wright explores the complex web of cotton, economics, and politics both domestic and international in the 1860s. This is an unusual but timely topic and should be of great interest to all.

The 108 who attended Michael Shaffer’s presentation on January 9 heard new perspectives on Civil War maneuver and fixed fortifications. 71 members enjoyed dinner together and were joined by an additional 31 members for the lecture. We also welcomed 3 non-members for dinner and an additional 3 for the program.

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