Musters


The First Defenders meet at 6:30 PM on the second Tuesday of each month from September through May. Meetings include dinner and a speaker who may be a guest or a member. Meetings are currently held at The Inn at Reading. A book raffle is held each month with all proceeds donated to battlefield preservation. Guests and new members are welcome. Space is limited in the restaurant, so please contact a board member or the First Defenders by email (see the Regimental Staff page).

MEMBERS ONLY! Sign up to attend the upcoming event!

** REMEMBER, these events are for members and their guests only. If you are interested in becoming a member, please contact Dave Sweigert, the Membership Chairman, on the Regimental Staff page.

Click hear to download a membership application!

 
  • September
    2016
  • October
    2016
  • November
    2016
  • December
    2016
  • January
    2017
  • February
    2017
  • March
    2017
  • April
    2017
  • May
    2017
The Battle of Rappahannock Station: A Prelude to 1864-1865
 
The autumn campaign in Northern Virginia does not get much attention from historians or in Civil War literature, but Ed Alexander launched the First Defenders' 20th Campaign by explaining why the Battle of Rappahannock Station was an important and somewhat ground-breaking event in military tactics.

On November 7, 1863, two brigades of the Union Sixth Corps defied conventional tactics during their frontal bayonet charge against a like number of Confederates who protected a critical bridgehead on the Rappahannock River. Robert E. Lee had just left the area when the attack was about to open (and possibly avoided an ignominious capture!) convinced the river crossing was secure.  But, in short order, the Yankees executed a pair of flanking maneuvers supported by artillery that left veterans of Lee's Second Corps, "Stonewall" Jackson's old command, bewildered and defeated (and, for many, captured)!.

The action at Rappahannock Station did not loom large in the battles of the Eastern Theatre.  However, the tactics used would be repeated with greater success in May 1864 at Spotsylvania and again several times in front of Petersburg during the War's final year.

Alexander's description of the fall campaign and this battle in particular was another excellent program presented by the "young guns" from the Emerging Civil War stable, and brought this little-studied action to life with color and detail!
 
"Mosby's Rangers"- The Bane of Union Armies in Northern Virginia
 
"Mosby's Confederacy" extended primarily throughout Loudon and Fairfax Counties in northern Virginia, and it is fair to say John Singleton Mosby and his 43rd Virginia Partisan Rangers were worth more than their weight in gold as they continually vexed Union armies throughout the Civil War.  Indeed, Mosby's men never actually surrendered in 1865; they quietly disbanded, returned to their homes and eventually received pardons.

Jeff Wert, one of only a few speakers who has presented to the First Defenders on multiple occasions, has researched and written about Mosby and shared some of the hair-raising stories escapades of him and his men.  A retired high school teacher, Jeff added touches of humor in his descriptions of how Mosby's band evaded larger and better-equipped Union forces sent to destroy them while exacting a huge toll on northern logistics, disrupting plans and even conducting a brazen midnight raid that netted sorely-needed horseflesh and a Union brigadier general.  When told of the episode, Abraham Lincoln reportedly said, "For that I am sorry, for I can make brigadier generals, but I cannot make horses."

Mosby was a favorite of Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart, and also was favorably mentioned in Robert E. Lee's reports on many occasions.  Slow to embrace secession, Mosby nonetheless aggressively and ruthlessly led his men in support of the Southern cause.

Jeff is always an entertaining speaker, and took time before and after his talk to discuss a variety of Civil War topics with First Defenders.  An old friend of the Round Table, Jeff's take on Mosby's Rangers was interesting, unusual and well-received.


 

Women Soldiers in The Civil War
 
The Victorian Era was an age of men, but that did not deter more than a few women from making their ways into the ranks of Civil War armies.  Their reasons were often the same as the men: patriotism, a desire for adventure, defense of hearth and home and the like.  These determined women came from all social classes and educational backgrounds according to First Defender Sherri Stull, and went to great lengths to hide their "secret."  Sherri told specific stories of Frances Clayton, Jessie Hodgers, Sarah Edmonds, Loreta Velaquez and Sarah Wakeman.  They, along with many others, endured the hardships of the common soldier; if they were discovered, they would be whisked away from the armies in the fastest and easiest manner, but certainly would not be permitted to stay with the troops even after their combat prowess had been well-proven.  Those whose secret was kept from army officers risked the potential of being wounded, captured or even killed in battle.  

There are few studies of women soldiers in the Civil War (although a recent Mort Kuntsler painting did shine a light on a female Georgia militia unit, the Nancy Harts, that actually went head-to-head with Union cavalry), but Sherri brought refreshing light to the stories of some of these women and what they experienced, and in the process expanded First Defender insights into a unique aspect of the Civil War. 
 



 

 
Did the Second Battle of Winchester Pave the Way for Union Triump at Gettysburg?
 
That is the question posed to the First Defenders during their December holiday program by noted author and lecturer Scott Mingus who, along with Eric Wittenberg, has penned the definitive account of the "1863 Valley Campaign" that is often lost in the glare of the Gettysburg spotlight two weeks later.  For many of the veterans of Second Winchester, the rest of their lives would be spent making the case their sacrifice made the Union victory at Gettysburg.

It is often left to the losers to find a silver lining in their sacrifice, and the veterans of Robert Milroy's 8th Corps division are no exception.  That they held the battle-tested troops of the late Stonewall Jackson in combat for three days, delayed the Confederate advance into Pennsylvania, kept Harrisburg from falling and allowed the Army of the Potomac to close the distance forced Robert E. Lee to fight a battle he was not prepared to bring on.  Or so Milroy and many of his men would believe until their dying days.

Scott reviewed the developing battle that was nothing short of a disaster for the troops engaged (more than 4,000, nearly half of the troops present, would find themselves marching to Libby Prison in the largest surrender of American troops until the early days of World War II).  The 8th Corps soldiers were victims of the Federal War Department, a martinet commander, their own lack of combat experience and, of course, the Second Corps of the Army of Northern VIrginia.

Gettysburg eclipsed the events at Winchester for both North and South.  Lee's troops could not find much to celebrate from their journey into Pennsylvania, and the Union victory at Gettysburg overshadowed everything else for the North.  But, for those who fought and suffered around the picturesque town of Winchester for three days in mid-June, there remains an ever-lasting legacy that they, too, were integral to the outcome of the Pennsylvania Campaign (and the war!).




 
 
~Program Cancelled Due to Winter Weather~
   




 
Join us for our monthly meeting!
 

Date: Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Time: 6:30 PM
Location: The Inn at Reading, 1040 Park Road, Wyomissing, PA 19610
 

Simon Cameron: Amiable Scoundrel
   
Simon Cameron rose to become the undisputed political boss of Pennsylvania.  In delivering the Keystone State to Abraham Lincoln in 1860, repayment of the political debt led to his appointment as secretary of war.  Cameron was one of the nineteenth century’s most prominent political figures; however, he left in his wake a series of questionable political and business dealings and, at the age of eighty, even a sex scandal.

Author Paul Kahan will bring this interesting character to life as he reviews the life and times of an era where a man like Cameron could seize control and exert real authority over a successful, well-oiled political machine. A key figure in Union military strategy during the Civil War’s crucial first year, Cameron would eventually be sent into a forced resignation.  Legend says he was corruption personified, yet no evidence has ever been presented to prove that Cameron was corrupt.

Join us to learn more about Simon Cameron: Amiable Scoundrel.

Paul Kahan earned a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Temple University where he worked with William W. Cutler, III. Prior to that, Dr. Kahan earned his M.A. in Modern American History & Literature from Drew University and B.A.s in history and English (with minors in medieval/Renaissance studies and music) from Alfred University.
In 2008, Dr. Kahan published his first book, Eastern State Penitentiary: A History. This book explores the penitentiary's history and is written for a popular audience. In February 2012, Peter Lang published Dr. Kahan's second book, Seminary of Virtue: The Ideology and Practice of Inmate Reform at Eastern State Penitentiary, 1829-1971. His third book, The Homestead Strike: Labor, Violence, and American Industry, was published by Routledge in late 2013.


Click on the sign up button above if you plan on attending the upcoming event. We need to know who is coming to be able to accommodate everyone. Thanks!

Join us for our monthly meeting!

Date: Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Time: 6:30PM
Location: The Inn at Reading, 1040 Park Road, Wyomissing, PA 19610

 
"McNeill's Rangers"
   
John Hanson "Hanse" McNeill led a small but pesky band of guerillas that operated primarily in the upper West Virginia region from 1862 to 1864.  McNeill's Rangers were actually Company E of the 18th Virginia Cavalry, and would raid Union supply lines, disrupt the B&O Railroad and outshine their more illustrious comrades, Mosby's Rangers, by capturing nearly the entire 1st West Virginia Infantry, 60 6th West Virginia Cavalry troopers while bathing nude and TWO Union generals in a midnight raid.

Hanse McNeill would only rise to the rank of captain before being wounded and subsequently captured in the Shenandoah Valley during the autumn of 1864.  He would be rescued by his comrades and taken to safety, but his wound proved to be mortal.

McNeill's Rangers were a small command in an area that was something of a backwater, but they made the war real enough for the Union troops stationed in the region during more than two years of active service.

Steve French, a middle school history teacher in Martinsburg, West Virginia, is the author of several Civil War books including Imboden's Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign, for which he received the 2008 Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award and the 2009 Civil War Round Table of Gettysburg Book Award. His most recent book is Rebel Chronicles: Raiders, Scouts, and Train Robbers of the Potomac. French has written over 70 Civil War articles and numerous book reviews that have appeared in such publications as The Washington Times, Gettysburg Magazine and North & South Magazine.
 


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Join us for our monthly meeting!

Date: Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Time: 6:30PM
Location: The Inn at Reading, 1040 Park Road, Wyomissing, PA 19610

Topic:  "An Evening with Ed" featuring the one and only Ed Bearrs!


 

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Join us for our monthly meeting!


Date: Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Time: 6:30PM
Location: The Inn at Reading, 1040 Park Road, Wyomissing, PA 19610

Topic:  "Myths of the Lost Cause" featuring author Ed Bonekemper


Click on the sign up button above if you plan on attending the upcoming event. We need to know who is coming to be able to accommodate everyone. Thanks!