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American Civil War Round Table of the UK 2019 Conference
ACWRT members learned a lot at this year’s conference, reports Peter Lockwood
The American Civil War Round Table of the UK held its 2019 Conference, ‘War in the Carolinas’, on April 12 to 14 at Wokefield Park, Berkshire. The Conference was a resounding success, enticing members to repay the sponsorship of the South and North Carolina tourist boards by visiting these less frequented Civil War sites.
Proceedings started on Friday night with a light-hearted session looking at the pronunciation of Civil War surnames and places. British and American expectations were of course different, but attendees also learnt that the pronunciation of ‘Beaufort’ varied between the Carolinas!
Kyle Sinisi, Professor of History at The Citadel military college in Charleston, opened Saturday with a talk on Fort Sumter. Interpretive tours at the fort are time constrained and mostly limited to the story of secession and the ‘First Shots’ of April 1861. Professor Sinisi continued the story through the failed naval assaults of 1863, and subsequent Union bombardments of the fort. Sumter’s original defences were almost completely destroyed, but both the fort and Charleston itself held out until Sherman forced their abandonment in February 1865.
Eric Lindblade then spoke on Burnside’s 1862 North Carolina Campaign. Army-Navy rivalry had been a major cause of failure at Charleston, but this was one of the most successful combined operations of the war. At one point, at the siege of Fort Macon, a naval officer in Beaufort was correcting the army’s artillery fire with signals repeated by the US fleet offshore. A native of Carteret county, Eric was able to provide local insight into the campaign.
In the afternoon Brendan Meehan, the Round Table’s Treasurer, showed how the politics of the Civil War continued after Appomattox, taking the narrative into the Reconstruction era with the story of Henry Berry Lowrie, a Lumbee Indian, who became an outlaw following the execution of his father by the North Carolina Home Guard in February 1865. It was a story of retribution, murder, ambushes, and daring prison escapes masterminded by his wife Rhoda.
After dinner that evening Kyle Sinisi gave a short talk on the role of The Citadel in the Civil War. Then on Sunday morning he spoke about the little known Battle of Secessionville, south of Charleston, on June 16 1862. The campaign was a litany of failures on the Union side, a battle that could not have been won, and should not have been fought, but which came about because Charleston was such a powerful political symbol.
Eric closed the conference, discussing George Pickett’s New Bern Campaign, February 1864. Perhaps haunted by July 3, 1863, Pickett was not the man to take risks when the Confederate plans went awry. A darker side to his character also emerged, the execution of many local North Carolina men who had enlisted in the Union ranks following the 1862 campaign. During questions, Eric told of meeting the 90-year old daughter of a North Carolina veteran. Her father had served in the Confederate army, then deserted, and ended up fighting for the Union. The Civil War is both more complex and closer in time than we appreciate.
The Carolinas theme will continue at the Round Table’s next meeting on 15 June in London, when Rick Hatcher III, former Park Historian at Fort Sumter, will speak about Admiral Du Pont’s ironclad attack of 7 April 1863. Non-members are welcome, subject to space. It is free for first-time attendees, and details can be found on the Round Table’s website www.acwrt.org.uk