Begun in Chicago in 1941, “Civil War Round Tables” are historical study organizations that are independent of each other. The name “Round Table” connotes a setting where discussions and presentations occur, not a physical, round table. Organized as IRS 501(c)(3) entities, Round Tables are sited all-around the country by those interested in the study of the American War Between the States. The local “Round Table” is the Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table founded in 1993 and celebrated its 25th anniversary this summer. The purpose of the organization is to provide a forum for nonpartisan study, education and discussions concerning the American War Between the States and to support the preservation of Civil War battlefields with related activities.
Round Table members are a varied lot with professional historians, amateur historians and people who just enjoy history. Members’ backgrounds are varied as well with a mix of blue and white collar workers of all ages. As an example, President Harry Truman was one of the founders of the Kansas City Civil War Round Table because of his personal interest in his family’s participation in the war. In order to encourage membership by younger people in the Tennessee River Valley, special dispensation is granted for dues by high schoolers (free membership).
Monthly programs include presentations by a number of different speakers on a wide variety of topics dealing with the period of 1861-65. It is not all about battles, operations and tactics but presentations cover other issues such as technology, personal biographies of participants and sociological issues. Noted authors and historians frequently travel from around the country to present to the Round Tables.
Every year, the TVCWRT conducts a field trip to historical sites related to the war. This October, a two-day visit to northern Mississippi will follow the campaigns and battles of Gen. Nathan B. Forrest in the defense of the state in 1864. The visit is based on the recently published book, “The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest 1861-1865” by TVCWRT member (and former president), retired Brig. Gen. John Scales, Ph.D. The trip will allow participants to actually visit a number of battles and engagements sites of the studied period and is open to the public with priority to Round Table members.
Surprisingly, despite decades of existence, there are those who have never heard of Round Tables. For professional military personnel, Round Tables provide a great way to learn military history so applicable to the military profession. In fact, foreign military officers have frequented Round Tables including a visit by an attaché stationed in Washington, D.C., to the TVCWRT. Many foreign military officers see value in studying our “Civil War” and the international officers at the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, all take an elective on the war culminating in a trip to Gettysburg annually.
The war spanned four years, covered thousands of miles of territory, and involved millions of Americans. It remains a significant defining event in our national history. Hundreds of new books are published each year about the war and the Civil War Round Tables provide a valuable venue through which intellectual knowledge about our American history can be shared. Visitors and guests are always welcome to attend the meetings and hopefully, become members. The TVCWRT meets the second Thursday of every month at the Elks Lodge at 725 Franklin St. in Huntsville.
Retired Lt. Col. Ed Kennedy
New Market resident