Williamsburg Civil War Roundtable

The purpose of this organization shall be to promote discussion and study of the Civil War and to further stimulate interest in all aspects and phases of the Civil War period.

Past Speakers

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January 2021 - Steve Phan presented "The capital can't be taken!" The Civil War Defenses of Washington
Fortress Washington was under siege. Three years of extensive construction, expansion, and training—all at the expenditure of exorbitant resources—had come down to a race. The Confederate Army of the Valley District commanded by Lt. Gen. Jubal Early, advanced south along the Rockville-Georgetown Pike on the morning of 10 July 1864. The day was hot and humid, and dust covered the road as the exhausted rebel force aimed to complete their campaign by seizing the Federal capital. General Robert E. Lee’s “Bald Old Man” was running out of time. The previous day, Early’s infantry and cavalry columns unexpectedly ran into heavy Federal opposition along the Monocacy River on the outskirts of Frederick, Maryland.
Awaiting the Confederate army was one of the most heavily fortified cities in the world. By summer 1864, the elaborate defensive system encircling Washington D.C. comprised 60 forts, 93 detached batteries, 5 blockhouses, fortified bridges, over 30 miles of military roads, and armament massing 800 cannons. Supplementing the defenses was a garrison of over 30,000 men. The capital defenders comprised heavy artillerist—expertly trained to operate the large caliber artillery pieces mounted in the forts—together with a mix of infantry and cavalry regiments. Nominally, such a heavy force entrenched in fortified positions made an enemy advance on Washington D.C. foolhardy and desperate. But 1864 called for desperate measures by both the Union and Confederacy.
Steve T. Phan is a Park Ranger and Historian at the Civil War Defenses of Washington. He has worked at Richmond National Battlefield Park, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Stones River National Battlefield, Rock Creek Park, and Buffalo Soldiers National Monument. A military history scholar of the Civil War era, Phan’s research focuses on military occupation, operational command, and fortifications during the Civil War. He is the author of articles about Asians and Pacific Islanders in the Civil War and the Defenses of Washington for numerous publications. He was nominated for the National Park Service Tilden Award for Excellence in Interpretation (2019). He holds a master’s degree in American History from Middle Tennessee State University.

February 2021 - Dr. Thomas G. Clemens will present “Special Orders 191”. Arguably one of the most famous incidents of the Civil War is the loss, and discovery, of Special Orders 191 and its impact on the Maryland Campaign of 1862. Many authors have speculated about the effects of this event on Lee’s first invasion of the North. Did it seal the fate of Lee’s invasion? Was McClellan slow in reacting to its discovery? Was it part of conspiracy by a spy in the southern army? Or was it a scheme to confuse and delay the Union forces under McClellan? Who lost it? Who found it? Where and when was it found? What was the impact on the siege of Harpers Ferry? Likewise, the battle of South Mountain? Even Antietam/Sharpsburg? What did it tell McClellan and what didn’t it tell him?

Dr. Thomas G. Clemens received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in history from Salisbury University, and his Doctorate in History Education from George Mason University, where he studied under noted Civil War historian Dr. Joseph L. Harsh.  Tom came to Hagerstown Community College in 1978 and spent most of his 34-year career at HCC teaching American History, retiring as Professor Emeritus in 2012.
Tom has written many magazine articles in various Civil War magazines, many book reviews and appeared in several documentary movies and television shows focused on Civil War topics. He appears as an on-camera historian in the introductory film shown in the Visitor’s Center at Antietam National Battlefield.

Tom is also an NPS-certified Antietam Battlefield Guide, and a 30+ year volunteer there.

March 2021 - Michael E. Block will present “A Rusty Sword, Five Friends, and ‘as perfect a beauty ever born on the soil of the Old Dominion.” Incidents and anecdotes from the Battle of Cedar Mountain, August 9, 1862.

The Battle of Cedar Mountain is considered by some as the opening fight in the Second Manassas Campaign, others a one-off fight. Mike will give an overview of the Cedar Mountain Campaign and the battle itself. But his focus will be on the experiences soldiers who participated in the battle. Their stories are typically lost in the recounting of the fight, so tonight’s presentation features their tales.
Michael E. Block is a recently retired government consultant, having served 20 years in the U. S. Air Force and 19 with the firm Booz Allen Hamilton. He was recently the Vice-President of the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, but still volunteers for the organizations.  He has been published in Blue and Gray Magazine, Hallowed Ground and will have his first book published, “The Carnage Was Fearful: The Battle of Cedar Mountain”, in 2021. His specialty is the Civil War in the Virginia Piedmont, with an emphasis on Cedar Mountain and the Winter Encampment of 1863-64. He resides in Williamsburg, Virginia with his wife of 39 years, Caryn. They have two married sons and three granddaughters.

April 2021 - Chris Kolakowski presented "Perspectives of the 1862 Virginia Campaigns“. The spring and summer of 1862 in Virginia witnessed campaigns and bloodshed unlike any before in North American history. Those campaigns - Valley, Peninsula/Seven Days, and Second Manassas - are some of the most famous of the conflict. The results of the fighting also marked a transition point in the Civil War. This talk will examine lesser-appreciated aspects of those campaigns and their contexts.

Christopher L. Kolakowski was born and raised in Fredericksburg, Va. He received his BA in History and Mass Communications from Emory & Henry College, and his MA in Public History from the State University of New York at Albany.

Chris has spent his career interpreting and preserving American military history with the National Park Service, New York State government, the Rensselaer County (NY) Historical Society, the Civil War Preservation Trust, Kentucky State Parks, and the U.S. Army.

On January 6, 2020, Chris became Director of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, after serving as MacArthur Memorial Director from September 16, 2013, to December 6, 2019.




To view speaker listing prior to current year, click here