My Experience at the Baton Rouge Civil War Symposium 2017
by Meshea Crysup, Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
& Civil War Bloggers...and More Network
Attending this symposium was a birthday present from Momma and my husband, Darren. I want to especially thank Darren because he used one of his rare, free weekends to take me and even went to the Friday evening Meet & Greet with me—something not entirely “his thing”. It was a fantastic gift for which I am very thankful! I want to share it now with those of you who did not get to attend.
With a nursing and long-term care background, you can bet I have been to my share of continuing-education seminars, conventions, trade shows, etc. In fact, I used to organize them, present at them, network, etc. This was my first civil war symposium however, and I was not entirely sure what to expect…
I will not keep you in suspense—I will answer the most important question first: The food was fantastic!
Seriously, that may sound superficial and irrelevant, but I assure you, no matter how great the symposium itself may have been, if the food was not good, or the place it was held was lacking in some way, that would be one of the first things people would talk about and they would still be talking about it this time next year! I had never been to Drusilla’s before, but it did not disappoint! The planning committee made an excellent choice in picking a venue, and that alone is no small feat!
The symposium kicked off Friday evening with a “meet and greet” type event. I am not shy, but I had never met any of the people attending in person before—I knew of them via facebook, email, reputation, etc. To my surprise and delight, one of the first comments I heard was the event organizer jokingly saying, “I wonder when that gal from Vicksburg is going to get here?” Optimist that I am, I decided to take that as a good sign! Other than having a terrible time trying to get the backing off of my nametag so I could adhere it to my blouse, the evening went off without a hitch!
There were several tables set up with books, relics, jewelry, prints, etc. for sale. There was also a silent auction being set up and items on display that were being raffled. I spent the most time at Grady Howell’s table. He has authored twenty-two books about the Civil War and he knew who I was! He was a joy to talk to and the highlight of my evening! (Did I mention he knew who I was?)
The most interesting display, however, was by American Battlesite Productions, LLC. owned by R.W. (Robert) Seal, located in Baton Rouge. His table even got Darren’s attention! He had working, remote control models of boats/ships from the Civil War! They were built from foam, but certainly did not look like it! They were very impressive indeed, as was Mr. Seal. He was very knowledgeable and obviously passionate about what he does. He does not have a website but his email is email@example.com and phone is 225-387-3073.
No doubt, however, it was the entertainment that was really the big event of the night. A father-son duet, Hogg Wild, consisting of Jim Hogg, the father, and James Linden Hogg, the 16 year old son that plays fifteen different instruments!
www.JamesLindenHogg.com This young man is going places! He has been to Scotland, he is the Louisiana State Fiddling Champion, and he acts too! If you have the opportunity to see this young man perform, do not miss it!
The next day, there was time before the speakers to network and check out the vendors and exhibitors again. A few more were on site, including Al Arnold, of Lee’s Orderly-fame! His table was quite busy!
The symposium began with a video and tribute to Willam A Spedale, a Baton Rouge native. His book, Battle of Baton Rouge 1862, was a free gift to all attendees.
The first speaker was Dale Phillips—The Capture of New Orleans
My main take away from this was that the importance of New Orleans was highly underestimated by the Confederacy. In fact, Jefferson Davis ciphered off resources from New Orleans for Charleston and Virginia. He made the argument that had New Orleans been handled differently, the South could have won the war, and he was quite compelling actually.
The second speaker was Christopher L. Kalakowski. His topic: “If This is Hell, I am in It”: Battles in the Fall of 1862
The title is a line he borrowed from President Lincoln. He painted a vivid picture of just how bad things were going for Lincoln at this point in the war. General McCullen was actually encouraging a march on Washington DC and imposing a dictatorship. Lincoln actually was considering resigning as President. General Rosecran’s actions at the Battle of Stone’s Creek in Murphreesboro, TN, literally turned this around and bailed Lincoln out of what would surly have been a failed re-election attempt, and allowed him to proceed with the war as he felt he needed to.
After lunch, Bertram Hayes Davis spoke on “The Life of Jefferson Davis”.
For me, personally, this was the most interesting presentation. Mr. Davis is an excellent speaker, mixing humor and story-telling in an engaging manner. (He and his wife had an exhibit as well, where I spoke with them, and both are quite engaging conversationalists as well.) A descendent of Jefferson Davis, he is passionate about sharing the story of his life and does a remarkable job of pointing out how important he was in American politics before the Civil War. He also covers his personal life, painting a well-rounded picture of this man whose role in our history has been inaccurately relegated to having only been the president of the failed Confederacy.
Next, Matt Atkinson presented Vicksburg: A Campaign for the Ages.
I actually met Matt the evening before at the Meet & Greet. We sat next to each other for dinner and during the music. Having been at the Vicksburg National Military Park earlier in his career, he was very interesting to me, personally. He did an excellent job with his presentation. I am sure he knew what he was talking about because I have been on Morgan Gate’s tour, and their content was very similar! Seriously, having taken Morgan’s tour, I was able to follow Mr. Atkinson’s presentation far better than I could the other “play-by-play” battlefield presentations earlier in the day. This just further validated in my mind the importance of not just reading history or attending lectures but of also actually going on the tours with experienced guides. Matt’s style was relaxed, fun, and very informative. His years of experience and expertise certainly showed. I even bought his book, Lieutenant Drennan's Letter: A Confederate Officer's Account of the Battle of Champion Hill and the Siege of Vicksburg!
The last speaker was Don Frazier—“Do something! War on the West Bank”
I would not have wanted to be this gentleman from the proud state of Texas—he had a tough spot to fill! He was following the very interesting story of Jefferson Davis, and Matt Atkinsons’s relaxed, fun style. Plus, it was getting late, and by this time, everyone was wearing out! To his credit, he understood this, and worked hard at presenting in a manner that engaged everyone rather than just speaking “at us”. He covered how food from Texas, meaning cattle, sustained Port Hudson during the siege. He also discussed the Vicksburg Cipher which it turns out was essentially, “You’re on your own!”
The “experts” took questions.
After all the presentations, the speakers gathered for a Q&A session. Of course, the topic of, “What actually caused the war?” came up. Surprise: there was not a consensus. The only thing everyone agreed on was that people are still very passionate and emotional about the subject, and, NOT in agreement! Actually, the attendees were giving their opinions on the matter more aggressively than the speakers!
And the number is…
The last thing was the raffle drawings. You had to be present to win. A lot of people left early, so they had to draw several times for many of the items. For the “grand prize”, I was ONE number off of the winning number!!!
Next year’s symposium?
I certainly enjoyed the symposium. It was entirely a positive experience, especially the networking. I have already been texting and emailing with several of the people I met. I would very much like to attend again next year. The event itself was priced very reasonably. Being from out of town, thus having to have a hotel for two nights, is what made it pricey for me, personally. I could have skipped Friday night’s Meet & Greet, driven up Saturday morning, and only spent one night, but for me, personally, that would have been physically difficult. Two nights at a hotel is inevitable for me on a trip like this. If I do not attend next year, it will not be about the quality of the speakers, the venue, or organization of the event. It will be because of family dynamics, schedules, etc. I do recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Civil War.
Congratulations to John Potts and the entire planning committee of Baton Rouge Civil War Roundtable’s first symposium. It was certainly a success!