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2018 Civil War Travelogues — West Coast CWRT Symposium, Fresno

Welcome to my 2018 travelogue pages. This is my report of the West Coast Civil War Roundtable Symposium in Fresno, November 9–11. I have attended a number of these conferences—this is my seventh—hosted on a rotating basis by a variety of California roundtables. This year it was hosted by the San Joaquin Valley CWRT. To see the entire list of my 2018 trips, go here.

Here is a reminder about the reason I write these pages the way I do. They record my experiences and impressions of Civil War trips primarily for my future use. Thus, they sometimes make assumptions about things I already know and focus on insights that I receive. They are not general-purpose descriptions for people unfamiliar with the Civil War, although I do sometimes link to various Wikipedia articles throughout. Apologies about the quality of interior photographs—I don't take fancy cameras with big flashes to these events; these are almost all taken with my iPhone X.

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Friday, November 9

I drove three hours to Fresno and checked into the Wyndham Garden Hotel next to the Fresno airport. It was a bit disappointing to see that only about 50 people showed up for this conference. Usually, the event attracts 100+. Nevertheless, the conference was well organized with good speakers, as usual. Unfortunately, one of the key speakers for the weekend, Thomas Cutrer, had to cancel at the last minute, so there was a bit of reshuffling and substituting to cover his three presentations. The conference opened with introductory remarks by Michael Spencer, the president of the SJV Roundtable.

Michael Spencer Ron Vaughan

Ron Vaughan provided an introduction to the trans-Mississippi theater. He covered the geographic area, the populations, resources, railroads, rivers, mountains, and famous units. The theater produced about 200,000 Confederate soldiers versus 157,000 US. One of the interesting characteristics of trans-Mississippi battles was that the number of Confederates often exceeded the number of Union soldiers on the battlefields.

Parker Hills

My friend Parker Hills arrived from Mississippi and presented a very elaborate introduction to the Red River Campaign. As usual, Parker pimped up his PowerPoint with an amazing array of animations, sound effects, and musical interludes, so everyone had a more entertaining time engaging with von Clausewitz and extensive extracts from Official Records correspondence than one might expect. Parker's main point about the origins of the campaign was "Follow the Money!" and some of the subsequent presenters echoed the same theme. He calculated that the amount of cotton that would be seizable along the Red River by the Union would be worth over $1 billion in current money, so this was the reason for the militarily inexplicable campaign. Parker talked about the presidential ambitions of Nathaniel Banks, and gave backgrounds on Richard Taylor and Edmund Kirby Smith. He outlined all of the correspondence between Banks and Henry W. Halleck, in which the latter proposed the campaign in a somewhat passive aggressive style. He described as background the Meridian Expedition, and then we adjourned to await part two of the presentation.

Saturday, November 10

Jim Stanbery, a long time favorite of conference attendees, gave an overview of the secession crisis, and focused a bit on activities in Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri.

Jim Stanbery Rick Hatcher

Rick Hatcher gave a presentation about the Battle of Wilson's Creek. He started by discussing the importance of Missouri to the Union, and how three major river systems (Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio) converged there, controlled by a place named Bird's Point. Also, all of the overland trails to the west started there and there was a major US arsenal in St. Louis. He gave a background of Nathaniel Lyon and talked about the seizure of Camp Jackson and the subsequent "massacre." He described how Sterling Price formed the Missouri State Guard, and also described the background of Benjamin McCulloch. He very briefly talked about the battles of Carthage and Dug Springs before getting into a tactical description of Wilson's Creek. He concluded with a sad story about how Lyons's body was mistreated after the battle.

Next was supposed to be a presentation about Sibley's campaign in New Mexico, by Thomas Cutrer, so Parker stepped up with a substitute presentation on Grant's march through Louisiana in the Vicksburg Campaign (which was apropos because it was indeed west of the Mississippi). He gave a lot of background about the strategic situation, described the Bayou expeditions, gave capsule descriptions of the corps commanders, Grierson's raid, Sherman's diversionary attack, and a lot of details about crossing the Mississippi to Bruinsburg. This was a particularly well illustrated account of the movements and timeline.

Ron Vaughan returned with a presentation about California in the Civil War. He said that Lincoln received only 32% of the vote. He described the various political conflicts that wracked the state. The presentation was mostly a bullet-style list of California units, outlaws and gangs, and military forts/encampments. He gave a good background about Union-promoting Thomas Starr King and also described the importance of the US Sanitary Commission; funds from California accounted for 25% of the commission's budget. One topic that was new to me was his discussion of the USS Camanche, a Monitor-class ironclad that was stationed in San Francisco Bay.

Rick Hatcher returned for a presentation about the Battle of Pea Ridge. He discussed the background of Samuel Curtis (US Army of the Southwest) and Earl Van Dorn (CS Army of the West), and gave us a good blow-by-blow description of the tactical details of the two day battle. This was an example of a battle in which the Confederates had more troops and guns than the Union, but they were essentially exhausted and lost.

Ron Vaughan returned again, this time with a presentation on the Battle of Prairie Grove. Nicely done with maps from the now-defunct Blue & Gray magazine.

After dinner, the annual Jerry Russell preservation award was announced by Dr. Brian Clague. Ron Vaughan was the recipient, then they also gave one to Mike Green.

Brian Clague Brian presenting Jerry Russell award to Ron Vaughan (with previous recipients at hand)
and also to Mike Green

Ron Vaughan substituted for Thomas Cutrer's presentation on Price's Raid, presenting instead "The Other War: France's Adventure in Mexico." This was a topic I knew virtually nothing about, which is pretty unusual nowadays. He described the Maximilian War of 1862–67. The United States supported Benito Juarez as the legitimate president of Mexico, whereas France had installed the Austrian Maximilian as Emperor. Ron described Confederate gun running programs through Matamoros. He also talked about Confederate diplomatic efforts, which included attempts to annex some of the northernmost Mexican states to the Confederacy. And he concluded by describing some of the Confederate emigrants after the war.

The evening concluded with Parker returning to finish up the Red River campaign. He presented a very extensive list of naval assets and briefly outlined the events of the campaign, although he did not go into any particular battle details. He included some aspects of Frederick Steele's Camden Expedition as well.

Sunday, November 11

Happy 100th anniversary of the World War I Armistice Day!

Jim Stanbery presented on Native Americans in the Civil War. He talked about the five civilized nations and the Trail of Tears before the war. He discussed Albert Pike and the various treaties that he negotiated in 1861 to align the Indians with the Confederacy. He said that 7,860 Native Americans served in the Confederate Army. He included a list of battles with a brief descriptions, and talked about Stand Watie, the highest ranking Indian and the last Confederate general to surrender in the war.

Brian Clague read a paper about medical care in the trans-Mississippi, although because of lack of information, he essentially expanded it to parts of the Western Theater as well. He outlined the increase in hospital beds over the years, talked about the Western sanitary commission, and early battles in Missouri and Arkansas and how their wounded had to be transported to St. Louis. He discussed the wounded at Shiloh and Vicksburg, and hospital boats at Milliken's Bend. He talked about a variety of diseases suffered in the Vicksburg Campaign and about the problems of Confederate quinine production.

Parker came back for a final round, this time on battlefield archaeology. This was a presentation specifically about the Raymond, MS, battlefield and how he and colleagues learned a lot about the locations of key events on the battlefield by digging up artifacts such as bullets, belt buckles, and coffee pots. As usual, it was well illustrated compliments of Google Earth and GPS. He also included a lot of background about the preservation of the battlefield, and the manufacture and installation of the artillery park and battlefield signage.

The meeting was running long, so I took this opportunity to hit the road back to Redwood City. After I left they were scheduled to do a presentation about SJVCWRT donations to the Raymond battlefield, a panel discussion of the weekend's presenters, and a preservation raffle.

It was an excellent weekend with a number of presentations containing new information for me, so that was great. They announced that next year's symposium will be hosted in Sacramento, November 8–10, although they have not yet determined the theme.

Unusual interior of Wyndham ECW books galore on sale!