Programs & Events

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, and we visit many historical sites on our bi-annual field trips. 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 CONTACTS 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 Officer, on the Contact page.

Click here to download Membership form

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They were a source of pride to the men who followed them, pointed them where to go when the sounds of battle drowned out orders from officers, a focus of attention for advancing enemy troops and very often resulted in the death of the brave men who carried them forward.  These are the battle flags of the more than 200 Pennsylvania regiments who marched off to war between 1861 and 1865. 

A frequent centerpiece of post-war parades and reunions, the standards were (and are!) actually quite fragile, and some have virtually disintegrated in part due to the storm thay passed through in war and in part over the ensuing years where time and environment took their toll.  However, thanks to conservation efforts by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, many of these 150-year old flags (and the staffs that flew them) have been saved for today's generation to see and experience. 

Preservation Specialist Jason Wilson explained to the First Defenders how the flags came to exist, how they were used during and after the war and the efforts that have been taken to preserve them.  Working from an ancient building in downtown Harrisburg, WIlson and his colleagues have provided the modern history student with another avenue to study and understand the Civil War, its participants and why they fought.

To the casual observer, the Battle of Gettysburg ended when Pickett's men were expelled from the Angle on Cemetery Ridge and forced back to their lines.  Students of the battle know, however, there was one more fight yet to come, and First Defender Gary Hertzog explained the action, the leaders and the ill-fated general who led "Farnsworth's Charge."

In his first presentation to the Round Table, Gary set the stage for the battle on the southern end of the battlefield in front of Big Round Top which pitted Federal cavalry against Confederate infantry and artillery posted on rocky, uneven ground.  Brigadier General Elon Farnsworth, wearing his star for only three days, considered the charge a bad idea, but made it when his division commander, Judson "Kill Cavalry" Kilpatrick refused to back down from his order.  In obeying, Farnsworth (and quite a few of his troopers) sacrificed their lives for no advantage to the Army of the Potomac.

Gary has been a student of the Gettysburg battle for most of his life, and has successfully completed the first step toward becoming a Licensed Battlefield Guide.  Based on the response to his presentation from the First Defenders, he is well on his way to leading one of his first tours for the Round Table!
Join us for our monthly meeting!

Date: Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Time: 6:30 PM
Location: The Inn at Reading, 1040 Park Road, Wyomissing, PA 19610

Member: Sherri Stull

Topic: Women Soldiers in The Civil War

Postponed due to SNOW!

Rescheduled for November in our
20th Campaign!


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!

GRANT'S LAST BATTLE: The Story Behind the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

Proving that he is a legitimate heir to the great Civil War storytellers of all time, author and historian Chris Mackowski made his second appearance before the First Defenders pulling them inside the tragic and fascinating story of Ulysses S. Grant's race to save his family, his fortune and his name as his days were winding down in a losing battle against cancer.  Just as he did two years ago when he transported us to the bedroom where Stonewall Jackson's life was ebbing away, Chris took us to times, places and people in Grant's life that are rarely visited.

Beginning with a bite of a peach that caused an excruciating pain in his throat, Grant's life would be forever altered.  The pain was the first inkling of the cancer, and that would eventually lead Grant to reversing his long-held stand there would "be no turning back" on many requests for his story.  But, in his post-army and presidential life, he had been ruined and left in debt by an unscrupulous business partner, and Grant, both a husband and a father, found the strength he needed to provide for his family by turning to writing.

Grant would battle to complete his memoirs.  He would need to overcome a number of manmade threats and challenges, but the real race was against the clock.  Just as Grant had shown something of a genius for war (and which seemed to desert him in peacetime), he found a flair for writing.  It was a story close to his heart, one which was anxiously sought after by thousands of people both North and South.  Grant had endeared himself to many, and they wanted to know the man and his story.

Chris carefully weaved his tale to create a tapestry full of depth, color and beauty that took us to a different time and place where few have bothered to tread.  Grant's final battle was, naturally, a success.  He had beaten his final deadline by just three days, but his memoirs served his personal goals and they have never been out-of-print since first being published.  Now, thanks to Chris and in the words of Paul Harvey, we know the rest of the story!

AN EVENING WITH ED - The Incomparable Mr. Bearss
Two presentations in one!  That's what the First Defenders received from their seven-time guest, National Park Service Historian Emeritus Ed Bearrs as he recounted the historic Vicksburg Campaign.  Perhaps no one alive knows more about Grant's efforts to conquer the "nail that holds the two halves of the Confederacy together."  In traditional rollicking style, Ed brought the campaign to life.

Then as an encore Ed recounted his well-documented search for the U.S.S. Cairo which sank in December 1862 after striking a torpedo in the Yazoo River.  Ed was integral in locating the wreck and eventually bringing her to the surface, but some of the "back story" that he relayed exposed many of the more "intimate" details of the operation.

Topped off with an early 93rd birthday celebration, an "Evening with Ed" was another First Defenders campaign event enjoyed by the 80+ members and guests who turned out on a great night to be with a great friend!




Join us for our monthly meeting!

Date: Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Time: 6:30PM
Location: The Inn at Reading, 1040 Park Road, Wyomissing, PA 19610

Topic:  Beyond 'Glory:' The Federal Warriors of Camp William Penn
DONALD SCOTT is a history columnist for Digital First Media Inc. and a professor at the Community College of Philadelphia. He has written two history books focusing on Camp William Penn -- the first and largest federal institution to train black northern-based soldiers during the Civil War.  Based in Cheltenham, a northwest suburb of Philadelphia where Scott today resides, Camp William Penn also hosted the greatest social activists of the 19th century including Frederick Douglass, William Still, Harriet Tubman, Robert Purvis and Lucretia Mott.  A graduate of Cheyney (formerly the historic Institute for Colored Youth) and Columbia universities, Scott has written about a variety of African-American history, archaeology and genealogy topics for such national magazines as America’s Civil War, Everton’s Family History and American Visions, as well as regional newspapers including The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Tribune. As a history columnist and feature writer Scott has often focused on black genealogy such as investigating and writing about the ancestry of modern descendants of United States Colored Troops (USCT) soldiers who fought during the Civil War and black families with roots to colonial America and beyond, as well as his own family history with Gullah-Geechee origins on the Sea Islands off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. At least two of his ancestors served in the 21st USCT, a federal regiment that was stationed on Morris Island, SC, with the 54th Massachusetts of motion-picture "Glory" fame.