Monday, October 28, 2013

Strolling down memory lane: South Bay Civil War Roundtable

DW, left, and TPS, August 24, 2013
Way back in 1988, my wife and I flew from San Francisco to San Diego where I was excited to attend the Annual West Coast Civil War Conference, then organized by Jerry Russell of Civil War Round Table Associates. I had just finished reading McPherson’s, Battle Cry of Freedom, and relished the prospects of listening to some authors hold forth on a variety of subjects. The featured historian was William C. “Jack” Davis, a tremendously knowledgeable and entertaining speaker. He told a story that had the audience laughing so hard, I remember it to this day (maybe some of you have heard it at other events – it involved him traipsing around his house with a Civil War saber, looking for a possible intruder). Bob Younger of Morningside Books was also there, and so I dropped a lot of cash on new reading material.

That conference was also where I met Ted Savas, who was then living in San Jose. He and his wife Carol, and Anne and I, gravitated together -- some of the only people in attendance who were still in their 20’s -- and the only four who had come down from Northern California (or so it seems to me now). We soon learned we had other things in common, such as Ted and I both hailing from Iowa (my mother grew up in his home town, and my father grew up nearby).

Not long after returning to the Bay Area, we got together at the Winchester Brewpub – just down the street from the legendary Winchester Mystery House – and started planning the creation of the South Bay Civil War Roundtable (at that time, there were roundtables in San Francisco, and on the Peninsula, one in the East Bay, but nothing in the area of San Jose, the most populous city in the area).

Our first meeting was held at Ted’s house with about 14 people in attendance. Ted became the first president, and I took up duties as the newsletter editor (and eventually became the 2nd president). At the first meeting, Zoyd Luce spoke on Benjamin “The Beast” Butler. Ted spoke the following month on Longstreet’s Suffolk Campaign, and I spoke at the third meeting on John Hunt Morgan’s Indiana/Ohio Raid. And just like that, we were off to the races, eventually finding a regular meeting place and steadily increasing the membership.

Within the next couple years, our group hosted the West Coast Conference after it had devolved into a moribund affair, and Jerry Russell was imploring the round tables themselves to take turns organizing it. The year after San Diego it was held in a dingy motel in Burbank, with very low attendance. It was in its death throes, and Russell was ready to give up. The following year we hosted the event near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, got the word out far and wide, and saw a great crowd turn out to hear a roster of speakers topped by Robert K. Krick, whose compensation included two tickets to the next 49ers game. That San Francisco conference was also where Ted and I debuted volume 1, number 1 of Civil War Regiments journal, which, along with a number of stand-alone campaign studies, would consume so much of our lives for years to come. After San Francisco, the Long Beach CWRT held a large, well-attended conference with James McPherson, and the meeting has been a rollicking success ever since.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the South Bay CWRT revived and re-energized the West Coast Conference, which today routinely sees 100+ in attendance, in nice venues, and with top-flight historians and authors (Richard Hatcher and Craig Symonds will be on hand next month).

At some point, I don’t remember when exactly, I stopped attending meetings of the South Bay CWRT in favor of the CompuServe forum I have administered for nearly 20 years, effectively an online CWRT whose members discuss the Civil War era all year long, and meet in person every spring to tour a battlefield. I eventually moved on to work at Stanford University Press, and Savas Woodbury Publishers became Savas Publishing, then Savas Beatie, and anyone who loves books on the Civil War knows what a strong presence Savas has been in that arena all these years later.

I’m pleased to say the South Bay CWRT is still going strong as well, compiling over the years a long record of generous donations to Civil War preservation organizations. When I saw that they were celebrating their 25th anniversary (which I calculate to be March of 2014), and that Ted was the guest speaker at the annual summer picnic, I decided to surprise him. We had not seen each other in over 10 years. I wish I could describe the look on his face when he glanced my way for the first time after arriving.

It was a lot of fun, and many memories were refreshed. Ted gave a masterful, no-notes talk on “The Battle of Payne’s Farm, November 27, 1863: Command & Competency During the Mine Run Campaign.” That, in itself, caused many more memories to surface, as I was with Ted at Payne’s Farm when he first began researching that fight, and when, using metal detectors, he established an artillery position by finding canister balls in the woods right where he surmised they would be found. He found the remnants of canister. My metal detector was so poor it literally could not detect a quarter sitting on the surface. I know because I tried. 


TPS said...

Hi DW, What a wonderful post down memory lane. Thanks for writing it. Lots of good times. I keep coming back to you chasing Thia around the kitchen when she had the loaf of bread in her mouth you brought. And Dick Sommers laughing about how his little pencil stub crashed our software with his long footnotes.

At least neither of us has aged. :)


Chris Evans said...

Great post. I consider the two of you giants of Civil War publishing of the last 25 years.


dw said...

Thanks Chris. Nice of you to say.

TPS said...

Chris, how nice of you to say. We appreciate hearing that, and appreciate you being there in support of our efforts over the years.