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Civil War Roundtable set

By Staff | Mar 9, 2015

The Harpers Ferry Civil War Roundtable will be held Wednesday, March 11 with dinner at 7 p.m. and program following at 8. The meeting place is Camp Hill Methodist Church in Harpers Ferry.

Author of Shadow of Shiloh: Major General Lew Wallace in the Civil War, Gail Stephens will speak on the Career of Major Wallace. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in International Politics from George Washington University in Washington D.C., and has done graduate work at Johns Hopkins and Harvard Universities. She worked for the Department of Defense for 26 years, retiring in 1994 as a member of the Department’s Senior Executive Service. Upon retirement, she began to study the American Civil War. She volunteers at Monocacy National Battlefield near Frederick, Maryland, lectures on the Civil War, and gives battlefield tours. In 2002, she won the National Park Service’s E.W. Peterkin award for her contributions to public understanding of Civil War history. She is on the board of the General Lew Wallace Study Museum and chairs the board of the Western Maryland Interpretive Association, which is responsible for the bookstores at Antietam and Monocacy National Battlefields. Stephens has written articles on Lew Wallace and Jubal Early’s 1864 invasion of the North for various Civil War publications. Shadow of Shiloh, published by the Indiana Historical Society Press in October 2010, won the Civil War Forum of New York City’s William Henry Seward Award for best Civil War biography of 2011.

In the aftermath of the bloodbath of the Battle of Shiloh, Union commander Ulysses Grant attributed General Lew Wallace’s late arrival on the battlefield to a failure to obey orders, badly tarnishing his honor. Shiloh still defines Wallace’s military reputation, overshadowing the rest of his stellar military career and making it easy to forget that in April 1862 he was a rising military star, the youngest major general in the Union army. Wallace was devoted to the Union, but he was also pursuing glory, fame, and honor when he volunteered to serve in April 1861. Gail Stephens will specifically address Wallace’s military career and its place in the larger context of Civil War military history, including the tension between citizen-soldiers and West Pointers that occurred in the officer ranks. The general assumption in current Civil War histories is that the West Pointers were more competent at war than the citizen-soldiers. That was not true in Wallace’s case. He had a talent for battle, which he demonstrated at Fort Donelson, Monocacy, and even Shiloh. But Wallace’s disdain for military rules and protocol and his arrogance, fueled by early promotion, alienated his West Point superiors such as Grant and, especially, Henry Halleck. At Shiloh, Wallace was merely one amateur in an army of amateurs. Grant and his staff made errors and Wallace’s late arrival was only one mistake of many, but Grant focused on it to shift the blame for the enormous casualties at Shiloh from himself. After Shiloh, Wallace left Grant’s army and returned to Indiana, giving Halleck an opportunity to keep Wallace out of the field for almost two years. In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln gave Wallace a second chance, and he validated Lincoln’s trust at the Battle of Monocacy. Wallace was an extraordinary man, lawyer, politician, general, author, inventor, and adventurer. Gail Stephens sheds light on the long-standing issues surrounding Wallace’s Civil War career and puts his great service to the nation in perspective.

A family-style meal will be served at 7 p.m. prior to the program. The cost of the meal is $15 per person. Reservations for the meal must be made no later than Sunday, March 7, with Kyle Wichtendahl at kfwichtendahl@gmail.com or 301-639-8855. The meal will consist of corned beef and cabbage, carrots, potatoes, Irish soda bread, rye bread, butter, iced tea, coffee and dessert.