Meeting of April 19, 2011

Bob Hildenbrand on “From Combat to Slave Labor: The WWII Berga Affair”

Charlie Sweeny provided the following description of Bob’s talk:

The Germans selected American POWs who were Jewish and sent a group of them to a construction site. These U.S. 100th Infantry Division soldiers were to dig pits in the cliffs to enable synthetic fuel facilities to be built. Berga is in eastern Germany south of Leipzig. The men were subjected to very hard labor and very short rations. Bob lost half his weight.

There were already Jewish prisoners at the site when the POWs arrived. The 350 GIs were to dig holes and dump the dirt into the nearby river. The project was closed down in March of 1945. The POWs were then marched 100 miles west until they were liberated on 23 April by the U.S. 11th Armored Division.

Of the 350 Battle of the Bulge POWs, 75 died before the war’s end. One half just gave up, stopped socializing and died. Marasmus.

Bob survived the war, went on to earn a PhD in Physical Chemistry at the University of California Berkeley. He put his experiences behind him until he got a telephone call from a researcher. He was asked, “What did he think of the German treatment of Jewish POWs?” Bob did not realize if there were Jews or not among the soldiers.

Two years later Bob received a check for $23,000 payment from the German Government for forced labor. A book, “Soldiers and Slaves” by Roger Cohen, details the story.

After the war, on the GI Bill, Bob attended Johns Hopkins University and then the University of California at Berkeley, culminating in a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry. For the last 40 years, Bob has been with the Physical Sciences Division of SRI in Menlo Park.

Meeting of March 15, 2011

Hal Jespersen on “William S. Rosecrans”

title slide from a PowerPoint presentation

First slide of Hal’s presentation

Hal Jespersen presented the life of one of his favorite Civil War generals, William S. Rosecrans, and asked the question: “How did a man of so many accomplishments fall from the heights of strategic success into relative obscurity?” Hal’s answer: an acerbic tongue that made enemies of at least two powerful men—Ulysses S. Grant and Edwin M. Stanton—and one poorly worded order at the battle of Chickamauga. Hal covered Old Rosy’s entire life, but concentrated on his Civil War campaigns, including Iuka/Corinth, Stones River, Tullahoma, and Chickamauga. Continue reading

Meeting of February 15, 2011

Bob Hubbs on “How Lincoln Won the War Without the Help of His Generals”

two guys in a tent

Lincoln and McClellan at Antietam

Bob’s presentation focused on Lincoln’s relationship with his generals in high command during the Civil War. Among the major points of Bob’s presentation were:

  • A review of Lincoln for what he really was relative to the manner in which he selected, communicated with, and demonstrated confidence in his generals.
  • Lincoln as a military strategist as well as a shrewd politician.
  • Identifying the generals Lincoln eventually replaced.
  • Lincoln’s masterful use of the telegraph in monitoring both the crucial Civil War battles as well as the progress and effectiveness of his generals.
  • Lincoln’s “photographic memory” in recalling the details of crucial battles as well as the “pitfalls”, shortcomings, and inept battlefield decisions of his generals.
  • Lincoln’s search for “just the right general” (or combination of generals) to carry out his aggressive strategy in the pursuit and defeat of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.

Meeting of January 18, 2011

Bob Asnard on “Andersonvilles of the North”

The Andersonvilles of the North seldom get much attention. The camps were of increasing importance as the war ran on because the North ended prisoner exchanges as part of a policy to weaken the South. Thus, when camps were bad and unhealthy, Rebel prisoners were exposed to steady, unceasing danger.

Meeting of December 21, 2010

Art Buckley on “Mary Todd Lincoln”

guy standing at a podium

Art Buckley

Art presented the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, the first woman designated as the First Lady of the United States, and certainly the most controversial. Meeting description provided by Charlie Sweeny:

The story of the upper class lady married to an uncultured country man is worthy of Victorian fiction but it was the truth of our sixteenth chief magistrate’s emergence from the boondocks to the top circles in the land. Continue reading

Meeting of November 16, 2010

Walter Day on “The 8th Alabama Infantry, Wilcox’s Brigade”

man doing a presentation

Walter Day

Meeting description provided by Charlie Sweeny:

The regiment was organized in Richmond on June 11, 1861. A rabid secessionist, Col. John Winston (twice governor of Alabama) was the commander all the way to the Battle of the Wilderness. The 18th fought in almost every battle in the East room the Peninsula to Appomattox. They were among the most faithful of the Army of Northern Virginia. They fought against McClellan, Hooker, Burnside, and ultimately Grant. They were part of the steady, sturdy backbone of Bobby Lee’s Army.

It is amazing to think of the plodding dedication shown year after dangerous year: Yorktown, Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Harpers Ferry, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Defense of Petersburg. Our speaker’s kin, Grandpa Day, left the Confederate Army after Appomattox. It took two months and a lot of walking to get home to Alabama. As with many of the veterans, his health was ruined. He died in September 1865 leaving a wife and seven children. The men of the 18th Alabama did not turn in their regimental battle flag. It was cut into pieces and shared.

Meeting of October 19, 2010

Jack Mather on “Bell Ringers and Fire Eaters: Southern Rhetoric on the Road to War”

man reading a speech

Jack Mather

Jack presented colorful overviews of some of the Southern secessionist extremists in the late 1850s, including Edmund Ruffin, Louis Wigfall, William Yancey, and Preston Brooks. The following description was provided by Charlie Sweeny:

The time from the 1840s on became more and more intermittently inflamed over slavery. Power brokers of the North and the South warily and wearily watched each other and jealously pursued each slight, grievance or assault with noisy vigor. Typical of the era was Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. He loudly reviled some Southern-tilting senators: Sen. Butler (S.C.)—Don Quixote, whose Dulcinea was “the harlot slavery”; and Sen. Stephen A. Douglas as Sancho Panza “the squire of slavery ready to do its humiliating offices.” Continue reading

Meeting of September 21, 2010

Don Hayden on “The Amazing MacArthurs”

man in a 19th-century general's uniform

Major General Arthur MacArthur

(Meeting description provided by Charlie Sweeny.) Few nations have had the likes of the brave père et fils MacArthur. Both were awarded the Medal of Honor for battlefield leadership and bravery.

The father, Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur, was born in Massachusetts. He served throughout the Civil War in the 24th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. At age 20 he was made lieutenant colonel. He was wounded three times and was brevetted (meritorious promotion in rank) four times. He was Sheridan’s “Boy Colonel of the West.” He was cited for “Gallant and Meritorious Service” in battles at Perryville, Stones River, Missionary Ridge, Resaca, Dalton, Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta, Jonesboro, and Franklin. He fought in the Indian Wars as a regular army officer (1866-1886). Continue reading

Meeting of August 17, 2010

Dr. Robert Asnard on “Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign”

man at podium reading a speech

Dr. Robert Asnard

Our CWRT president, Bob Asnard, presented an overview of William T. Sherman’s campaign in the Carolinas, February–April 1865. He gave some background about Sherman’s March to the Sea, which captured the city of Savannah, Georgia, in December 1864, and then started off into the Carolinas with a “visit” to Columbia. Bob talked about the logistical challenges that Sherman faced in the heavy rains of that winter and also briefly about the battles of Averasborough and Bentonville. He concluded with a description of the surrender negotiations between Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston at Bennett Place.

Meeting of July 20, 2010

Jeffrey Vaillant on “Chasing Your Civil War Ancestor”

Jeffrey, who is a professional genealogist, gave a presentation about how to do research on your Civil War ancestor, including information about the U.S. Census, the National Park Service online “Soldiers and Sailors System,” and finding military and pension records at the National Archives. Jeffrey has provided two papers (both Microsoft Word documents) with a number of interesting online links:

His talk provided real-world examples using one of his own ancestors, a soldier with the 10th Iowa.