Civil War Group Marks 200th Meeting
Bill McKone, of Cambridge, Vt., talks with other Civil War enthusiasts during a meeting of the Green Mountain Civil War Roundtable at the Coolidge Hotel in White River Junction yesterday. The group is marking its 200th meeting and 20th anniversary. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Jack Anderson, of Woodstock, a founding member of The Green Mountain Civil War Roundtable, speaks of the group’s history and accomplishments during its 200th meeting at the Coolidge Hotel in White River Junction yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
White River Junction — Abby Brunelle was the sole outlier yesterday in a room full of 1860s obsessives.
Though the 23-year-old has accompanied her father to several meetings of the Green Mountain Civil War Roundtable, she doesn’t have nearly the zeal for the war as its members do.
“They always pick on me,” Brunelle, of Lebanon, quipped after listening to a 90-minute presentation on the intricacies of monuments erected at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg.
That presentation, given by Steven Floyd, a retired New Hampshire chiropractor, headlined the roundtable’s 200th meeting over 20 years. A cake honoring the occasion sat at the back of the Hotel Coolidge’s Vermont Room, until it was cut up and distributed among more than 30 roundtablers.
The genesis of the roundtable was in 1993, when Jack Anderson was teaching a survey course in Civil War history at Lebanon College.
When that course ended, Anderson, a founding member of the roundtable and director of the Woodstock Historical Society, began teaching another class on the Gettysburg campaign.
Most of the students from the first class joined the second; together, they decided to form a to talk about the topic.
“We didn’t know how to run it, but we decided we’d have a real roundtable meeting the first time,” Anderson said.
Eighteen people showed up. The topic: What do you think about George McClellan, the divisive general who headed the Union ground troops during the war?
“Everyone could pipe in on that one,” Anderson said.
Since then, the reach of the group has expanded, extending from actual roundtables to presentations, such as the one yesterday, and group trips to Civil War destinations including Gettysburg, Pa., Antietam, Md., Washington, D.C., and the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and West Virginia.
About five years ago, Anderson said, the group brought in Edwin Cole Bearss, the former chief historian for the National Park Service, for a presentation, and about 75 people came to take it in.
But many of the presentations, which occur often — the roundtable meets 10 times a year — are given by Vermont and New Hampshire residents, many of whom have learned some hyper-specific angle of the Civil War well enough that they can teach others about it.
The monuments at Gettysburg, Floyd said yesterday, are “enduring symbols” of the battle and those who participated in it. According to the Gettysburg Foundation, there are about 1,300 monuments in the area.
“The deeds of this war defined a generation,” Floyd said, noting that all presidents between 1868 and 1900, except for Grover Cleveland, were Union veterans. “In fact, it defined three generations of Americans.”
He want on to describe changing architectural styles of Gettysburg monuments as the country moved further away from the Civil War — how the structures moved from the funerary feel of urns and sarcophagi immediately after the war, to the monuments commemorating survivors about 20 years later, to the themes of peace and unity that were more popular afterward.
Questions after the presentation focused on, primarily, the component parts of granite and how they relate to the companies that made the monuments.
“We’re all nuts,” joked Alan Brunelle, Abby’s father, after the presentation. “We’re all really nuts.”
Brunelle’s personal area of study, he said, is the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which fought at Gettysburg. He chose to delve into the matter simply because he couldn’t find any complete written history for it. “You find out these little tidbits,” Brunelle said, “and you just collect them.”
And having the ability to talk about those esoteric nuggets with others who will happily accept them is, to some of the roundtable members, one of the best reasons to be part of the group.
“It’s just so exciting for me to share time with folks who like the stuff I like,” said Lew Gage, a member of the roundtable’s executive board.
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.